Irish society owes a debt to the young woman at the centre of the Belfast rape trial for initiating a debate about sexual violence that will have lasting repercussions, according to a campaigner against sexual violence who has been honoured for her work with rape and sexual assault victims.
Director of the Cork Sexual Violence Centre Mary Crilly, who has just been named as the March Cork Person of the Month, said that she felt that a debate and movement has developed in the wake of the Belfast rape trial that can only be good for Irish society, North and South.
“I feel a movement has started and a lot of people who may not have been aware of the extent of what goes on in court have learned a lot because of this case – they would have known it was difficult for the victim but they would have learned a lot more from what they’ve read about it.
“I know the four guys were found not guilty but I think their attitudes as reflected in their text messages perhaps more than the trial really got to people and there’s been a great outpouring of support for this young woman and I don’t think she has any idea how much she is changing things in society.”
Ms Crilly, who set up the Cork Sexual Violence Centre as the Cork Rape Crisis Centre some 35 years ago, said she was quite shocked that members of the public could walk in off the street in Belfast to watch the trial. And she welcomed the fact that rape cases in the Republic are held in camera.
“I think a lot of what came out in the Belfast trial has helped generate debate and discussion. But it should not be held in public.”
While welcoming the fact that rape trials are heard in camera in the Republic, Ms Crilly said she believed there should be special fast-track courts here to deal with cases of rape and sexual assault as victims of sexual violence are waiting far too long for their cases to be heard.
“I think for both sides it would help because very often a person is waiting two to three years from the time that they make a report until the time they get to court and for a young person or anybody they really have to put their life on hold for that.
“It should be dealt with a lot quicker – from the time somebody makes a report, a decision should be made by the DPP within three to four months and there should be no reason why the case should not happen that year,” she said.
Ms Crilly said that the recently established Garda Protective Service Units in An Garda Síochána were working well in that they were staffed by competent and thorough investigators, but they needed more resources to fully investigate the volume of sexual offences occurring in Irish society.
“We have a new unit here in Cork based at Anglesea Street Garda station and they are really good. But they need more resources because they have so much to investigate between historical sexual abuse, sex trafficking, domestic violence, sexual violence – they just need more resources.”
The Cork Sexual Violence Centre provides services to the survivors of rape and sexual assault free of charge and the centre, which is staffed by highly experienced professionals, can be contacted at 1800-496496 or by visiting them at 5 Camden Place in Cork city.