Rape crisis calls - Rape will rise where it is tolerated

The latest report on the incidence of rape, the most heinous of crimes against women, reflects a truly shocking picture of society where sexual violence, including gang rape, is now increasing alarmingly.

It is dispiriting to learn that during the past year the 24-hour national helpline of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre dealt with more than 12,000 contacts from victims of sexual assault. Behind the cold statistics, one can only imagine the sheer terror of the women who were attacked so viciously.

This report shows an increase of 23% in first-time callers to the centre compared to the 2010 figure. Frighteningly, the same increasing trend was also seen in 2011, when the number of first-time callers to the centre rose by 18%.

What does it say about us as a people when the kind of violence against women which has rightly been condemned in India and elsewhere is now happening with alarming frequency in the cities, towns, villages, and rural areas of a so-called Christian Ireland?

In the course of carrying out their highly laudable work, volunteers from the crisis centre accompanied 260 victims of recent rape and sexual assault on visits to the Rotunda sexual assault treatment unit in 2012. Worryingly, 4,640 people who contacted the helpline were repeat contacts, an increase of 6% on 2011.

Going on the experience of many volunteers serving at the coalface of this most troubling aspect of Irish life, the available statistics are merely the tip of an iceberg because so many instances of rape, assault and sexual abuse go unreported in this country. Among an array of obstacles to creating an accurate national picture is the fact that many victims know their attackers. Thus, many are reluctant to come forward and name names.

Another reason for remaining silent is the adversarial nature of Ireland’s legal system where defence counsels invariably portray women as the cause rather than the victims of assault. The same criticism can be made regarding the inconsistency and leniency of sentences handed down by an out-of-touch judiciary, all too often on the basis of favourable psychiatric reports.

Like it or not, the way rape cases are handled in the courts is an unedifying but accurate mirror of how women are generally regarded in society. Though it is the 21st century, every level of Irish life outside the home still tends to be male dominated. With few exceptions, that scenario is true of the world of politics, religion and industry.

According to Ellen O’Malley-Dunlop of the Rape Crisis Centre, the economic recession is also to blame for the alarming increase in sexual violence. The disturbing year-on-year increase in calls from victims of adult sexual violence reflects the internationally held view that sexual violence, and in particular violence against women, generally increases in times of economic recession. There is also an undeniable link between excessive alcohol consumption and sexual assault.

A very worrying factor behind the growing incidence of rape is the virtual explosion of hard core pornography now readily accessible online. It is appalling that copycat instances of pornography have led to women being dragged off the street and gang-raped.

With sexual crime now endemic it is vital that Justice Minister Alan Shatter introduce measures to tackle this crisis.

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