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Sexual assault survivor recounts being 'bullied' by defence lawyer in court to point where it was 'hard to think straight'

Sexual assault survivor Tracey Thompson has spoken about her experiences with the New Zealand justice system after the Government's announced funding to help make the legal process easier for victims.

Part of the Wellbeing Budget will include more than $37 million towards reforming the criminal justice system, including training solicitors working with sexual assault cases and the cross-examination process for victims, to better respond to survivors of sexual violence.

In 2015, Ms Thompson's father Roger Roper was convicted of sexual crimes against five women and girls, and jailed for 13 years. Ms Thompson was one his victims.

Speaking to TVNZ1's Breakfast today, Ms Thomspon talked about how tough the court cross-examination process was for her.

"It's not just about the cross-examination, it’s about the whole journey.

"It doesn't just start from that part as you go into the courtroom – it’s about how you go right from the beginning, when you agree to testify, all the way through to that point, and I think, one of the biggest things for us is that as soon as you walk into the courtroom, you're not allowed to feel.

"You're reliving your memories, this traumatic event, and you're not allowed to feel, so that's the one thing you get told because it’s a mistrial if you do. You’re not allowed to get upset with the defence lawyer, you're not allowed to get sassy with them ... you're not allowed to feel."

Ms Thompson said she was "absolutely" called a liar during the court process by the defence lawyer, adding, "All of us were."

Her sister "was screamed at," she said. "He [the lawyer] turned around and screamed at her and said, 'You're nothing but a liar,' and she said, 'I'm not,' and the judge actually stopped him and said, ‘You're not allowed to do that.'"

"[The defence lawyer] looked at the judge and said, 'I can do whatever I like.' ... We were bullied to the point where it's just so hard to be able to think straight."

She called the Government's pre-budget announcement yesterday to invest in domestic and sexual violence services "a great idea" and "fantastic that they're finally doing something."

"They've got an opportunity here to be to look at what's going on in the system, shake the system up and that side of things."

However, she said the Government "needs to start looking at the specialist side of things", including court victim support staff and "more people in there that are going to support the victim right from the word 'go' and afterwards."

She said if she had to go through the court process again, she would because "it's about being able to be able to tell your story, to have that opportunity to stand in front of your accuser and say, ‘No, you actually did this to me.’ Whether they get 'guilty' or not, you get that opportunity to do so and some people come out very empowered."

"We were lucky. We got a conviction, and he [Roger Roper] is behind bars, but some people don’t get that. I think it’s very, very important that they get the opportunity to do so."

Under-Secretary to the Minister of Justice Jan Logie said earlier on Breakfast that the Wellbeing Budget was "a cause for celebration."

"People have been revictimised by our system and we've got a chance to stop that' so that, at least, is cause for celebration," she said.

"This is the largest Budget bid in any one budget in this country's history on family and sexual violence, so that's a big deal."

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Tracey Thompson discusses the court process on TVNZ1’s Breakfast. Source: Breakfast