Delay in getting rape cases to court is failing victims, says Amnesty

Victim blaming and flawed legislation is contributed to ‘underreporting’ of sex assaults

The Irish judicial system must improve the "timeliness and efficiency" of the legal process around rape, and cut the length of time between reporting and court proceedings, so that rape victims are not faced with years of additional trauma and uncertainty, Amnesty International has said.

The human rights group said on Saturday that flawed legislation for criminalising rape and a strong culture of “victim blaming” was continuing to perpetuate impunity around sexual violence across Europe.

The updated Right to Be Free from Rape report found that despite the inclusion of consent in Irish legislation, the length of proceedings, which often reached two years in Ireland, meant many victims chose not to pursue legal routes because they were "unwilling to put themselves through years of uncertainty and secondary traumatisation".

“The knowledge that one has to remember the minute details of their assault for years to come for a day in court in several years’ time, while trying to heal and move on, can be a significant barrier for victims,” the report says.

Outdated laws are not the only barriers preventing women from seeking justice for rape, says Amnesty. Widespread prejudice, victim blaming, credibility questioning, negative stereotypes and myths, often among the people responsible for enabling victims’ access to justice, must also be addressed.

The group commended the recent #ThisIsNotConsent campaign where women in Ireland posted pictures of their underwear online, but warned that rape still remains “highly underreported” across Europe.

Numerous surveys show people still believe it’s not rape when the victim is drunk, wearing revealing clothing or not physically fighting back, said Amnesty’s international researcher on western Europe and women’s rights, Anna Blus.

“Laws have the power to enable justice and influence attitudes,” she said. “Sex without consent is rape, full stop. Until governments bring their legislation in line with this simple fact, the perpetrators of rape will continue to get away with their crimes.”

In Ireland, rape has been defined as “sexual intercourse without consent” since 1981. Under the 2017 Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act, a person consents to a sexual act only if he or she “freely and voluntarily agrees to engage in that act” and that consent to a sexual act “may be withdrawn at any time before that act begins, or in the case of a continuing act, while the act is taking place”.

Amnesty also cautioned that the “quality and scope” of sex and relationship education offered in some Irish schools remains too heavily influenced by the institution’s religious ethos.

It also called on the Irish State to ratify and fully implement the Istanbul Convention preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence “without delay”. Ireland is one of just eight European countries not to have ratified the 2011 convention.

Out of the 31 countries covered in Amnesty’s research, only Ireland, the UK, Belgium, Cyprus, Germany, Iceland, Luxembourg and Sweden define rape as sex without consent. Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, The Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, and Switzerland consider it rape when there is force, the threat of force or coercion or the victim’s inability to defend themselves.

Some countries categorize sex without consent as a lesser offence to rape, sending a strong message that “real rape” only occurs when physical violence is used, warns the report, while certain countries still frame rape and sexual violence laws in terms of crimes relating to “honour” and “morality”.