When a stranger broke into Sarah Grace’s bedroom and sexually assaulted her in the summer of 2019, it changed her life forever.
But she is adamant that the attack on her in what should have been the safe environment of her own home will not destroy her. And she is equally adamant that her experience in the criminal justice system will help other survivors of sexual assault in the future.
She was living in an apartment on the Grand Canal Dock in Dublin when she was assaulted in July 2019 by Ibrahim Elghynaoui, who was convicted of aggravated sexual assault. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison last March.
Almost a year after making public her ordeal at the hands of Elghynaoui, she is now working on a document to help other victims of sexual assault.
And she is also awaiting the publication of a book with O’Brien Press, which also aims to educate people about the justice system step by step, from the time a sex crime is committed until it ends in death. conviction of the author.
She believes focusing on these projects will help raise awareness about sexual violence, but also help survivors negotiate the criminal justice system.
Following her attacker’s conviction last year, Sarah wrote an open letter to Justice Minister Helen McEntee expressing concerns about certain aspects of the criminal justice system.
She wrote that it is unacceptable that notes from victims’ private therapy sessions are leaked in sexual violence trials, while she also says victims should be able to testify behind a screen. She also expressed concern that victims do not have legal representation to prepare them for trial or to defend their interests in a court case.
The open letter was followed by a meeting with Ms. McEntee, which she was full of praise.
Sarah says: “The meeting itself was very positive for me and she invests in it clearly and sincerely, which is reassuring. As part of its policy, they (Justice Department officials) were going to look at a number of areas that I had highlighted in my open letter.
Since the meeting, she says she has spoken to the minister on several occasions since her return from maternity leave.
She expects another appeal from him in January and says she is also working closely with the Dublin Rape Crisis Center and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions in an effort to make the justice system more accessible to survivors.
She said: “I am in the process of writing some sort of checklist, or cheat sheet, for survivors in terms of their approach to the court process. There is a lot of information online that I didn’t find until long after my trial was over.
She said she asked Ms McEntee for more practical solutions, as the information currently available is “super generic”.
As a lawyer herself, she is aware that other survivors will have much less knowledge of the legal process than she had – and she admits that her own knowledge was limited.
She says the document she’s working on is a step-by-step guide through the process, with tips included for friends and families of survivors.
She explains, “It includes simple things.
“Even in the weeks leading up to the trial, no one was able to give me an answer.”
In her own experience, from the time the attack happened until the time Elghynaoui was sentenced, she took notes for the checklist document which she will forward to Ms McEntee in January for Obtain input from officials in the Department of Justice and the DPP office.
She said the document is expected to be released as part of the Justice Department’s Victims Charter. The Victims Charter website was launched by the ministry in February.
The document is also to be published online by the Dublin Rape Crisis Center. She said it would provide survivors with an idea of what to expect from the legal system.
For Sarah, something as simple as what to wear to court was something she felt was important to include in the document.
She says, “Nobody tells you (what to wear) because they think it might result in a victim, but you should still be able to give some sort of direction.”
Sarah says that for herself and the other survivors it is also helpful to know the court layout, including the location of the victim suite.
She explains, “When you walk in it’s so overwhelming because you have no idea what you’re headed into. ”
She adds, “The defense is 20 steps ahead of you, they know the parts by heart, they know the process by heart, they throw words at you that you don’t understand. The purpose of the checklist is to make it more understandable and accessible to someone who is not familiar with this (legal system) at all ”.
She describes her forthcoming book as a longer version of the checklist, with each chapter focusing on different elements of the criminal justice process.
She says: “This includes from the second the gardaí arrives, things to know about a gardaí investigation or things to know when you have a forensic examination and up to PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). ) and the protection of your consultation records and anonymity. It should be released in March.
– If you are affected by any of the issues raised in this article, please click here for a list of support services.