Courts system needs reform to protect survivors of sexual violence, says report

Citizens’ Assembly on gender equality says guidelines should remove barriers to justice

Specialist training should be provided for judges and lawyers regarding the treatment of survivors of sexual and domestic violence, the final report from the Citizens’ Assembly on gender equality has said.

Among a detailed list of 45 recommendations, those focusing on the legal system say newly developed guidelines should exclude the consideration of sexual history, character, attire and counselling or other medical records during relevant proceedings.

Key outcomes of the assembly's deliberations were agreed in April but its final report was put to the Oireachtas on Wednesday.

It has said the entire courts system is in need of reform “to better protect and support victims/survivors of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence and their dependents and [to] remove barriers to justice”.

The legal recommendations also include the introduction of “tougher sentences” and rehabilitation programmes for those who perpetrate domestic, sexual and gender-based violence.

The provision of legal representation and the establishment of a victims/survivors commissioner as independent advocate is also necessary, the document said.

In the area of emergency care, the assembly has said there is a need to ensure sufficient publicly funded beds, shelters and accommodation for victims and their dependents in line with the Istanbul Convention.

Regarding media, a subject of increasing societal focus, the final report sets out the need to “hold technology and social media companies accountable for immediately removing online content that constitutes sexual harassment, bullying, stalking, sexually violent or abusive content”.

Media generally should be more strongly regulated to promote gender equality and avoid discrimination and stereotyping. Annually published details of such monitoring of, and compliance with, gender equality and inclusion measures should be provided.

"The report come out of more than a year's hard work and informed consideration by the members," said assembly chair Catherine Day. "I want to pay tribute to our committed citizens who have given their time to the important issue of gender equality, despite the disruption caused by Covid-19."

Other recommendations covered an increase in the minimum wage to align it with the living wage by 2025; and legislatively based targets to reduce the hourly gender pay gap to 9 per cent in the same time frame. The latter should be further narrowed with a view to its elimination by 2035.

Under the ambitions of the report, a statutory body would be established for gender equality and come under the responsibility of a cabinet minister who would in turn be charged with cross government co-ordination of gender equality issues.

“Lifelong care for persons with disabilities who need it should be seamless and there should not be any break in services provided or need to reapply for support when a person turns 18,” it said.

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard is a reporter with The Irish Times