Rape conviction rate offers no protection

The Annual Report of the Courts Service makes disturbing reading in relation to rape cases. During 2013, the Central Criminal Court dealt with a total of 567 rape cases.

Seventy-three of the accused pleaded guilty, thereby saving the court valuable time, for which they would have received reduced sentences. Of the others charged before the court, 205 defendants were sent to trial. Those trials ended with 35 convictions, and 155 acquittals. In 15 instances, the jury was unable to agree on a verdict.

One way of interpreting those figures would be that the jury convicted fractionally over 17% of those tried for rape and acquitted 76.6%. Those figures did not take into account 289 other cases. In 106 instances, the State entered a nolle prosequi, and the rape charge was listed as having been taken into consideration in the other 183 cases.

Those “taken into consideration” would have been instances in which the accused was already convicted. This does not necessary suggested that the court decided that it was not worth pursuing a rape charge simply because the accused was being penalised for another crime already. It could well have been that the accused was charged with multiple rapes and was already convicted of one.

There is a great need for more detail in relation to the cases “taken into consideration”, and the Rape Crisis Network Ireland would like to see a breakdown of the reasons for not proceeding with cases.

There should also be details of the sentences imposed on those convicted of rape, as well as a breakdown differentiating between historic and recent cases.

Whether the case was recent or historical does not mitigate the severity of the crime, but it is important so that future reports could determine actual trends. For too long, the State has failed to face up properly to the awful crime of rape.

It has long been recognised that women are reluctant to press rape charges. Although they are protected in relation to publicity, they still have to be prepared to testify in court, and be prepared to endure the embarrassment of being cross-examined by a defence team that will invariably seek to discredit the victim.

Statistics can be massaged in different ways, but no matter how the figures are presented in relation to rape cases, the rate of conviction appears pathetic.

The rate of convictions in 2013 for all of those charged with rape was just 19%, but the rate for those who actually contested the charges was less than 7%.

This is a frighteningly low conviction rate, which raises serious questions about the court process as a deterrent in protecting women.

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