We must do more to shield victims of sexual abuse from the media

I don’t know which is worse: being groomed and molested by a man of significant power and influence, or being unfairly cast as a liar and seductress by the media while trying to claim justice? The recent case involving the England footballer Adam Johnson’s sexual abuse of a young fan has highlighted an enormous flaw in the justice system: its failure to protect already traumatised victims from the further harm.

The disgraced footballer denied the accusations for a year before he eventually pleaded guilty to grooming and sexual activity with a minor. His denial sentenced a teenaged girl to a grueling year-long public court case. When she should have been in school studying for GCSEs and hanging out with friends, she was instead spending time in court, being cross-examined by lawyers whose job it is to find inconsistencies in her story. I wonder if the girl’s parents, had they know the extent of the media backlash, would still have encouraged their daughter to come forward. I doubt it. In the one statement the girl has been allowed to make, she expressed how in the last year, her life has been turned upside down.

The girl’s life has indeed been turned upside down, and not only by the sordid events that took place in the back of Adam Johnson’s blacked-out Landrover. After the court publicly released statements from the defence accusing her of an inconsistent story, every major newspaper and millions of people on Twitter voiced an opinion on the case, speculating about who they thought was to blame. In the statement following his conviction the girl said: ‘I’ve had to face so much abuse after he claimed his innocence. I was made out to be a liar, if anything, I held things back because I didn’t want all of this to come out. There are people out there who have made assumptions about me and that alone has been hard to deal with. I have been unable to defend myself publicly. The gossip on social media and hearing all of the horrible names that people have been calling me has been devastating to me, my friends and my family… I’ve been in some very dark places.This 15-year-old has been twice injured: once by Adam Johnson himself, and once by the media who released statements from the defence casting her as a liar and seductress.

Having been found guilty of intentional coercion and two counts of sexual activity with an underage girl, the disgraced England Footballer is set to receive a ‘substantial prison sentence’. However, a lengthy prison sentence will hardly atone for the year of trauma suffered by the victim and her family. Sex crime cases should take place behind closed doors, in a closed court, with no media access until a verdict is reached. This young girl, a child, was brave to come forward and she deserved better from the justice system.

Image credit: Todd Huffman

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