Witness by Louise Milligan

‘You don’t sleep the night before that first day in court.’

I am uncomfortable. I am angry. I am sad. No wonder so few victims of sexual abuse make it to court. Forget justice, think of the pain of being retraumatised as you live through the experience (or experiences) again and again. In this book, Ms Milligan writes of those survivors courageous enough to go to court. And there’s Ms Milligan’s account of her own experience as a witness and her harrowing report of cross-examination when she was called as a witness in the trial of R v George Pell.

‘Most had lived with the pain but had never been through the legal process. It was all too much. Meeting them always reaffirmed the sense of doing all of this for the right reasons. Thinking of them now reaffirms why I am writing this book.’

I read this book torn between admiration for those brave enough to try to seek justice and furious at a process which retraumatises victims and seems to take no account of the trauma already suffered. Surely, Australia, we can do better than this in the twenty-first century? Adversarial court proceedings where aggressive well-paid defence lawyers seem to determine outcomes, regardless of truth? Ms Milligan worked on this book for almost five years: speaking with courageous victims, with doctors, with members of the legal profession including judges, prosecutors, and defence lawyers.

‘Why does the court system allow adults to speak to kids in a way that might see them dismissed if they treated a young person like that in the workplace.’

Read it and weep, but read it.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith