The Irish Times view on reporting of sex crimes: New response needed

Garda attitudes and court procedures are changing in line with new legislation

Because of outdated legislation and a difficulty in securing convictions, victims of rape and sexual abuse were sometimes advised by gardaí to let the matter drop and complaints were not recorded. Photograph:  Bryan O’Brien

Because of outdated legislation and a difficulty in securing convictions, victims of rape and sexual abuse were sometimes advised by gardaí to let the matter drop and complaints were not recorded. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

 

Changes to the criminal law defining consent in sexual assault cases; improved classification and record keeping by the Garda Síochána and a broad cultural shift towards naming abusers and reporting sexual crimes have all contributed to a doubling in the number of reported offences during the past decade. These are clearly positive developments and have opened up the issues for further study and reform.

Because of outdated legislation and a difficulty in securing convictions, victims of rape and sexual abuse were sometimes advised by gardaí to let the matter drop and complaints were not recorded. Where individuals pressed charges, delays and aggressive cross-examination in court caused victims distress while offenders might walk free. Thankfully, Garda attitudes and court procedures are changing in line with new legislation and a greater public awareness of such abuse. The #MeToo movement has also encouraged sexually abused women to come forward.

This dramatic increase in the number of reported sex crimes requires a multipronged Government response. Additional training and expertise should be funded within the Garda, the courts system and the counselling services.

But a clearer picture is also needed about what, exactly, is happening in society. A view that only 10 per cent of sexual crimes are reported or recorded will be tested in a survey planned by the Department of Justice. A similar study should examine reasons for the dramatic increase in reported sexual crimes.

One-quarter of the 3,182 sexual offences recorded by the Garda in 2017 involved rape. Those figures may be understated and the Central Statistics Office, which publishes the data, has concerns about their accuracy. Because of recent Garda reforms, however, it can be assumed that the numbers represent a considerable improvement on traditional reporting standards.

To reassure women, however, a comprehensive Government response to these multilayered developments is now required.

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