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no shame Sexual abuse victim Haileigh Ashton Lamont calls for changes to criminal justice system

'By not speaking about child sexual abuse, the perpetrators are getting away with it'

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Haileigh Ashton Lamont PHOTO: BBC

Haileigh Ashton Lamont PHOTO: BBC

Haileigh Ashton Lamont PHOTO: BBC

Belfast woman Haileigh Ashton Lamont who waived her anonymity to speak about the decade of childhood sexual abuse she had suffered at the hands of her stepfather has called for changes to the criminal justice system. 

Haileigh was abused between the ages of seven and 18 by Tommy Harris, who was later convicted at Laganside Crown Court of 42 charges of sexual violence against her.

Tommy Harris received a 16-year sentence last year with eight to be spent in prison and eight on licence.

At the time, Haileigh, then 30, said: “I will not be remembered as the wee girl who was sexually abused, I will be remembered as the young woman who boldly and bravely stood up for herself and exposed a paedophile.”

Now, Haileigh has said criminal justice system must change, with that change starting within society.

"By not speaking about child sexual abuse, the perpetrators are getting away with it," she told BBC News NI.

"There's absolutely no shame in talking about it and raising awareness to make people who are suffering feel supported.

"I'm never going to stop talking about this and I'm doing it because I don't want anyone to suffer the way I did because it was so tough.

"I feel duty bound to speak up and help others."

Haileigh believes that victims being given more information and being more involved, would improve the legal process.

"Having gone through each stage of the process myself, I understand why some victims want to wash their hands of the process because it is re-traumatising," she said.

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"And not knowing what to expect is hard. If victims were better prepared and had more knowledge, they could go to court with insight and support."

There are two legal changes that Haileigh is calling for.

She does not think that defendants who plead guilty in historic abuse cases should be given reduced sentences and she also wants victims to be given the chance to deliver what is known as a victim impact statement in court.

"For me, the people who carried out this abuse had time to come forward. They're only in court because they were brought there, years later, so why should they get credit?" she said.

During her case, Haileigh was not allowed to read her statement in front of her abuser.

"That was so important for me, to face him like that, and I wasn't allowed to do it. And I felt brave and empowered to do it, but I wasn't allowed to," she said.

"It's not so much the words that you would say. It's the sound of your voice in a courtroom in front of other people saying: 'I've exposed you, you didn't get away with it. There are consequences'.

"We're not nameless or faceless statistics, and there's no shame so I think that victims should be able to stand in court and read out a statement and then choose, if they want to, to leave, never want to talk about it again - or confidently use their voice and be supported in doing that.

"We're not weak. What was done to us hasn't made us weak.

"Other people will want their anonymity and of course they should have that, but the choice should be there."

"My message has never been to encourage other victims to come forward," Haileigh said.

"I'm not saying you will go to police and your journey will be the same as mine, I know that's not the reality, and the statistics reflect that it's not going to be the same as my journey.

"All I want to do is to share my story to give other people hope and to better prepare victims for what to expect, if and when they do come forward.

"Whenever people hear a victim's story, I feel as though those sympathetic eyes need to turn to - what can we do to help? How are we going to change this? What can we do to come together and make a change?

"I respect that change will take time, but it does need to happen."

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