Rachel's story The Underwear Rule and our young witness advocacy helped from beginning to end

young girl"I hadn't thought about talking to Hannah* about abuse before as she was only 3 and I didn't think that it would be something that would happen to us. Not long after hearing about the Underwear Rule, I said: "Where your pants cover; that area is for you. No-one else can touch this area." I expected her to just say 'ok' but she said "Ron* puts his fingers up there."

"I was shocked as Ron was a friend and was like a grandfather to Hannah. I didn't know what to do. I called my husband Mark* at work and we went to Ron's house to confront him about it. It was like we were talking to a stranger. I called the police and they came to our house. They talked to me first and then spoke to Hannah. Everything was taken at Hannah's pace and I can't fault how they handled it.

"I agreed that Hannah could have a medical examination and the damage was consistent to what she had told us had happened. By now she knew that was wrong and she had to talk to the police about it so that Ron would be punished. She said: "Do I have to tell them everything that he did to me so that he is told off?" I told her that she did and I was shocked when she said he touched her elsewhere too.

"Do I have to tell them everything that he did to me so that he is told off?"
Hannah

"She had an intermediary called Ruth who came and assessed whether she was competent and if she knew what she was saying before she gave her statement to the police. Part of this was done using toys.

"I was told that she'd need to do a video statement and that she could go and see the room where she would do it first with Ruth, and that Ruth would be with her when she did it. We were able to explain to her how it all worked and this made her feel comfortable for when she had to do the statement. She also got to play games with Ruth so they built up a relationship so that she felt settled with her.

"She did the video statement and a while later the CPS said that they had enough evidence to take it to court. I was initially concerned about her having to give evidence via video link but they did everything to ease my worries and to make the experience as comfortable for Hannah as possible.

"Ruth had to jump in a few times when the defendant's barrister asked questions that confused Hannah."
Rachel*

"Mark and I were shown around the court first and were able to ask questions about the process. We were then able to take Hannah so that she could get used to the courthouse and could learn about what would happen. On her visit, she was taken in the side entrance and down the corridor like she would be on the day. She was then shown the court room and was able to play at being judge. She had me in the box and asked me questions. She also got to meet the judge and the barristers so she knew who would be asking her questions. I think this really helped her.

"On the day of the trial we were given a waiting room to ourselves so that there wasn't any chance of us bumping into any of Ron's family or friends. Hannah didn't have to wait long to give her evidence but she was in the waiting room all day and it wasn't very child-friendly. Luckily we'd taken some toys in for Hannah.

"Ruth was with her in the video link room when she gave evidence and by now she had got to know Ruth well. Ruth had to jump in a few times when the defendant's barrister asked questions that confused Hannah. He was trying to get things out of her that she wouldn't have understood. I do think that barristers need some training on what type of questions are appropriate to ask young victims who are giving evidence and what type of questions aren't. The barrister was asking her questions which implied that what happened to her couldn't have happened to her because of how young she was.

"I think they underestimated what they would get from her but she is a very smart, switched-on little girl."
Rachel

"She gave evidence for nearly an hour as she kept talking and talking. I think they underestimated what they would get from her but she is a very smart, switched-on little girl so she kept coming out with things. Even though she was young, I knew she was more than able to do it. It was still horrible waiting for it to finish though.

"We were relieved that they came back and found him guilty the same day. He was sentenced to 8 years in prison. We told Hannah and she said: "See, I told everyone I wasn't lying."

"After she first told us what had happened, she really struggled and she was very clingy. She wouldn't even let me go to the toilet by myself and leave her. But now she is a lot more confident and she's gone back to her life and got on with things."


*DISCLAiMER

Names have been changed to protect identity. Photographs have been posed by models.

Helping children like Hannah

Sexual abuse

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