Rape: a better legal system is needed

A lack of reliable data has disguised the scale of the problem

There is something seriously wrong when only 10 per cent of rape victims report the crime to the Garda and just eight per cent of those cases result in court convictions. The reasons are varied, according to research, ranging from cultural attitudes in society to reporting requirements, prosecution mechanisms and trial processes. Fundamental change is needed to address these issues and, in the process, to extend greater understanding and compassion to the victims of rape and sexual abuse.

A lack of reliable data has disguised the scale of the problem, according to EU Rights of the Child coordinator Margaret Tuite. She recommends the use of pre-recorded evidence, as happens in other countries, to support children in court, along with other calming mechanisms. Rape Crisis Network Ireland favours the introduction of pre-recorded evidence in adult cases on the grounds that existing procedures rely too much on memory and on the ability of the victim to give quick, clear and unambiguous answers. Outdated statutory provisions and rules of evidence, the group says, do not take account of the needs of vulnerable witnesses.

Irish society has been reluctant to confront its darker side

In that context, a commitment by Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan to review all aspects relating to sexual assault cases here, following the recent Belfast trial, should be welcomed. His Department, however, has displayed little zeal for reform over recent years. Elements of a 2012 EU directive, designed to support and protect the victims of crime, remain to be implemented. At the same time, State funding for voluntary rape agencies has been cut.

Irish society has been reluctant to confront its darker side. In 80 per cent of rape cases, the perpetrators are known to the victim and, in cases involving children, are frequently related to them. It takes an average of four years for cases to get to court and, during that period, many complaints are withdrawn. For those subjected to intense cross-examination in court, the experience can add to their trauma. These issues can no longer be ignored.