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Sexual Assault Trials Being Conducted Virtually: The Future of Justice?

— February 2, 2022

It is clear that there are benefits and drawbacks to conducting sexual assault trials virtually.

It’s the future of justice. Due to Covid 19, many criminal proceedings, including sexual assault trials, are being conducted virtually. No, this isn’t something out of a science fiction novel; it’s happening right now. And, as technology advances, it’s likely that more and more trials will be held in this manner. There are a number of benefits and disadvantages associated depending on whether you’re the accused or the accuser.

Benefits for the Victim

Reduced Stress & Anxiety Associated with Formal Court Process 

There are a number of benefits to conducting sexual assault trials virtually. For one, victims don’t have to go through the trauma of testifying in person. They can simply testify from the safety of their own home. A victim who has suffered sexual assault may feel intimidated or scared in a courtroom setting. By conducting the trial virtually, these feelings can be avoided.

Avoids Facing the Accuser in Person

Another benefit is that victims don’t have to face their attacker. This can be very important for victims who are trying to move on with their lives. Many sexual assault trials result in the victim having to see their attacker in person. This can be very re-traumatizing and cause the victim to relive the sexual assault.

Time & Cost Savings

Sad woman in shower; image by Meghan Hessler, via
Sad woman in shower; image by Meghan Hessler, via

Finally, virtual trials avoid traveling to the courthouse. This can be important for victims who live in rural areas or have to take care of children or elderly parents. They may not be able to take the time off work or find someone to watch their loved ones. Additionally, the cost associated with traveling to the courthouse can be prohibitive.

Disadvantages for the Accused

Difficulty in Assessing Credibility 

When it comes to virtual trials, there are several disadvantages for those accused of sexual assault. In most situations, the allegations are based entirely on what the accuser claims. It’s vital for the trier of fact to consider demeanor in a case that only includes the credibility of the victim. A virtual trial can make it difficult to gauge how credible the defendant’s testimony is. 

Technology Drawbacks

Other concerns include straightforward technology malfunctions that might slow down and make the trial process difficult to manage. Internet connection of all parties involved is critical, and any disruptions can impact the fairness of the trial. The drawbacks of technology may lead to extended trials, which will be costly to the accused. Regardless of whether or not the evidence is presented, a sexual assault lawyer would typically charge per hour.

Lack of Evidentiary Record

Because all court hearings are audio recorded, the increase in virtual trials has given rise to a new problem that threatens the preservation of court records. The concern is that the audio recording of the trial makes it hard to provide an evidentiary record in a case where an appeal may be filed. 

Informal Court Setting

In a courtroom setting, the judge has more control over cell phone use, chatting in the spectator section, and the ability to direct the witness. The judge, on the other hand, can’t exercise as much control over video conferencing as they would have in person. A detachment from the formal process provides a different level of courtroom control. This detachment allows for a more casual and less stringent courtroom setting. The relaxation can be problematic for the accused.

It is clear that there are benefits and drawbacks to conducting sexual assault trials virtually. The important thing is that both the victim and the accused are given a fair trial. As technology advances, we will continue to see more and more sexual assault trials being conducted in this manner.

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