Sex crime victims being ‘sent away’ by Garda, Rape Crisis Centre warns

All frontline gardaí need training in sexual violence cases, says Noeline Blackwell

 Dublin Rape Crisis Centre chief executive Noeline Blackwell: some victims of sexual and domestic violence who visit Garda stations at busy times are told “We’re dealing with something more important. Come back in the morning.” Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

Dublin Rape Crisis Centre chief executive Noeline Blackwell: some victims of sexual and domestic violence who visit Garda stations at busy times are told “We’re dealing with something more important. Come back in the morning.” Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

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Dublin Rape Crisis Centre has said it is concerned that victims of sexual violence are being “sent away” by the Garda and that many crimes are not being investigated.

The centre’s chief executive, Noeline Blackwell, said that although the force’s approach to dealing with victims of sexual violence was becoming more specialised, further improvement was needed as quickly as possible.

The centre believed that some victims of sexual and domestic violence who visited Garda stations at busy times were told, “We’re dealing with something more important. Come back in the morning,” she said.

“If someone goes in to report a sexual offence is it even captured?” Ms Blackwell asked. “Or is somebody sent away and never comes back?”

She said all frontline gardaí needed training in how to deal with victims of sexual violence, even if specialist investigators would eventually take over cases.

She was commenting after revelations that the number of people who have come forward to report sex crimes over the past 14 years has been overestimated in official crime figures.

Underestimated figures

The Garda and Central Statistics Office have reviewed all crime statistics in the wake of problems with homicide data. Last month, the CSO said homicides had been underestimated by 18 per cent since 2013. For the vast majority of crime types, only very minor revisions were required. But for sexual offences the number of victims coming forward had been overestimated by 6 per cent between 2013 and 2016 – and in some years by as much as 26 per cent.

Some offence types were revised because crime-counting rules had not been followed, according to the CSO. When a victim was targeted with the same crime by the same perpetrator, for example, the Garda had recorded each case as a separate crime, but it should have recorded them as only one crime.

Ms Blackwell said it was of concern that fewer victims of sexual crime had come forward than had been recorded. There had always been a concern that only 10 per cent of such victims might be coming forward, she said, but the revision of sexual-crime data collected since 2003 meant the real number of victims coming forward was even lower than had been believed.

Garda Headquarters confirmed such repeat offending “should be counted as one crime in line with the crime counting rules”.

A spokesman added reforms around the investigation of sex crimes were already under way.

“An Garda Síochána has a dedicated national section with highly trained professionals dedicated to the investigation of sexual crime.

Data in ‘vacuum’

“We have begun introducing such bureaus at a divisional level which will further enhance the investigation of sexual crime at a local level.”

Ms Blackwell said data showing how many sex crimes were reported to the Garda in a year were of limited value because the figures were published “in a vacuum”. She pointed to the Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland report, which is now almost two decades old. It sought to determine the prevalence of sexual violence by surveying the public.

Such research needed to be conducted regularly, perhaps every five years, she said. Over time, trends in the nature and frequency of sexual violence would emerge, and these could be compared to the annual Garda-CSO sex-crime figures, she said. It would then become clear what proportion of victims were going to the Garda.

“The lack of a proper survey in Ireland means it’s almost impossible to identify the percentage of people who report in this area,” she said. “We believe it’s very low. But if it’s true that only about 10 per cent of people report, these figures are not all that meaningful.”

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