Sexual assault cases up 30%, Forensic Science Ireland report shows as 'upward trend' continues

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The State's forensic science laboratory has seen a 30% rise in sexual assault cases so far this year.

Forensic Science Ireland said it was working with regional sexual assault treatment units, rape crisis centres and the Department of Justice to understand what was happening to cause a continuing surge in cases.

Speaking at the launch of the FSI annual report 2018, agency director Chris Enright said there has been significant growth in sexual assault submissions.

“That has increased pretty significantly over the year and what we are seeing in 2019 is an increase of 30% year over year - that's submissions coming into our lab. We are seeing a continuous upward trend.”

The findings confirm trends in successive crime data reports published by the Central Statistics Office, most recently last March.

The CSO data showed that reported sexual offences have jumped by 60% between 2014 and 2018, including a 10% rise in 2018.

This latter figure included a 21% rise in rapes, a 10% increase in defilement (of an underage person) and an 83% hike in aggravated sexual assaults.

Mr Enright said they have ongoing involvement in structures bringing together sexual assault treatment units (SATUs) and that they assisted them with training.

He said evidence they examine include intimate swabs from SATU kits as well as items of clothing.

This work is conducted by a dedicated sexual assault team within the agency's DNA section.

Mr Enright said this can take a couple of weeks and that, in consultation with gardaí regarding what are considered urgent investigations, they prioritise cases for further examination.

Asked whether the increase in cases is due to a rise in reporting or incidents he said all the relevant agencies and advocacy groups were trying to understand that, but suggested that it could be a combination of both.

He said the next Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland (SAVI) study might be able to answer some of those questions.

FSI has also introduced advance screening technology to analyse toxicology samples from victims of sexual assaults, to determine the presence of alcohol, drugs and other toxins – but no unique substances linked to 'spiking' have been detected in recent years.

FSI examines forensic evidence gathered in the course of criminal investigations and also gives expert evidence in trials.

It also operates the DNA Database, which went live at the end of 2015. Almost 26,650 DNA profiles of people were added to it by the end of 2018.

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