Public attitude change towards rape needed, says Blackwell

Dublin Rape Crisis Centre director backs calls by Leona O’Callaghan for legal system changes

Leona O’Callaghan (37) speaks to the media outside the Central Criminal Court in Dublin. Photograph: Laura Hutton/Collins

Leona O’Callaghan (37) speaks to the media outside the Central Criminal Court in Dublin. Photograph: Laura Hutton/Collins

 

The director of Dublin’s Rape Crisis Centre, Noeline Blackwell, says there needs to be a change in legislation and in public attitudes towards rape.

A change in mindset is needed, any sexual activity that is not free and consensual is rape, she told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.

Ms Blackwell was commenting on calls by Leona O’Callaghan for changes to the system by which rape trials are investigated and conducted in the Republic and a recommendation by retired senior judge Sir John Gillen, that the public should be excluded from rape trials in Northern Ireland.

A 52-year-old Limerick man was jailed for 17 years on Monday for the rape of Leona O’Callaghan in a graveyard when she was aged 13.

The now 37-year-old Ms O’Callaghan waived her right to anonymity so Patrick O’Dea, also known as ‘Whacker’, could be named.

He pleaded guilty on the second day of his trial at the Central Criminal Court to charges of sexual assault and rape on dates in 1994 and 1995.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Claire Byrne Show on Monday night, Ms O’Callaghan said the system had torn her to pieces. It had taken “four long years”. She called on Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan to provide the resources to shorten the length of time it takes for cases to go through the legal system.

During those four years she had attempted suicide and been hospitalised a number of times, she said.

“The current process is not working.”

‘Full blooded defence’

On the same programme, Mr Flanagan said it was time for new protocols for lawyers, the traditional “full blooded defence” often using whatever means available “was not acceptable”, he said.

The Minister added that not only was it time for a change in legislation, but also in public thinking. There should be a policy of zero tolerance for rape, he said.

On RTÉ’s Morning Ireland Ms Blackwell said the Minister now has an opportunity to make these changes. The legal system needs to understand that when there isn’t free and full consent it is abuse, up to and including rape.

Ms Blackwell paid tribute to Ms O’Callaghan saying how difficult it was to stand up and explain the level of harm that the accused caused to her.

Deterred

Meanwhile the head of the Cork Sexual Violence Centre said many rape victims will be deterred from coming forward after a comment in a recent rape trial about the type of underwear worn by a complaniant

Mary Crilly said the comment was a retrograde step and a worring development.

Earlier this month, in her closing remarks to the jury at the Central Criminal Court in Cork, defence barrister Elizabeth O’Connell said consideration should be given to the underwear the 17-year-old complainant wore on the night she alleged she was raped by a 27-year-old man while out socialising in Co Cork. The man who had denied raping the girl was found not guilty .

The comments have “ knocked us back 20 or 30 years,” she said. “Just from talking to young girls who turned up at the protest about it last week - they wouldn’t have been around in the 1980s when a woman’s clothes were held up in court and they were just shocked”.

“Normally young girls don’t go on these protests but they were genuinely horrified at the comments by the barrister and a lot of them told me that they wouldn’t report it now if they were raped and they were to be subjected to that sort of commentary - it really has knocked them back hugely.”

Ms Crilly was speaking after addressing a meeting of Cork City Council Joint Policing Committee.