Sex crime victims should be able to meet offenders: report

Criminal justice system ‘inherently ill-equipped’ to deal to sex crime challenges

Facing Forward report says: “Victims recognise very quickly that an adversarial criminal justice system reduces them to being a witness for the State and gives them very little opportunity to explain the impact of the abuse on their lives.” Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times

Facing Forward report says: “Victims recognise very quickly that an adversarial criminal justice system reduces them to being a witness for the State and gives them very little opportunity to explain the impact of the abuse on their lives.” Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times

 

A restorative justice system to enable victims to meet offenders should be introduced in cases of sexual violence, a new report recommends.

The study, based on 149 interviews with victims, offenders, judges and others, found strong support for the idea as a way of filling some gaps in the adversarial criminal justice system.

It found that the current courts system was “inherently ill-equipped” to address some of the challenges posed by sex crime, particularly for victims and their families, and argued that the high bar for evidence had resulted in almost 70 per cent of such cases not being prosecuted.

“Victims recognise very quickly that an adversarial criminal justice system reduces them . . . to being a witness for the State and gives them very little opportunity to explain the impact of the abuse on their lives,” according to the report, which was commissioned by Facing Forward, a voluntary organisation that advocates restorative justice methods.

Written by Dr Marie Keenan of the School of Applied Social Science at UCD and Bernadette Fahy, a counselling psychologist, it notes that fewer than one in 10 sex crime cases ever reaches the criminal justice system.

“For the vast majority of victims of sexual crime, a gulf exists between what the criminal justice system promises and what it can actually deliver.”

Sense of isolation

Offenders who took part in the project, among them a number of people serving life sentences, described a system that they felt encouraged them towards denial rather than acceptance of responsibility.

“Those interviewed were aware of the damage they had done to the victims and even though they were scared of meeting them, many felt they owed it to the victim they had hurt,” the report states.

The authors argue that sex crime, given its complexity and its acute psychological impact, often calls for a more flexible approach to justice than a courts system that is “by design offender-focused, with the imperative to gather evidence, to prosecute law-breaking and to punish law-breakers”.

Victims quoted in the report said that while the criminal justice system provided a sense of public validation and vindication, by virtue of their claims being believed, another form of accountability was needed.

“While refinements are certainly required to the conventional justice system, no amount of reform in that system will ever enable it to offer victims of sexual crime what they require: a victim-centred justice response.”

Idea supported

The report, which will be launched in Dublin today, recommended that a three-year pilot project of “restorative justice” in certain cases of sexual violence should be established “as a matter of urgency”.