Call for urgent marital rape law review

Noeline Blackwell: CEO of Dublin Rape Crisis Centre.

There needs to be an urgent review of marital rape law and legal guidelines after a sentence for an offender was reduced on appeal, say Women’s Aid and the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre.

The organisations made separate calls after the Court of Appeal reduced the sentence of a husband convicted for raping his wife. The term was reduced from 12 years, with two years suspended, to 10 years, with 18 months suspended — effectively cutting his sentence by 18 months.

The defendant was also convicted of assault causing serious harm and threatening to kill his wife as well as assaulting her mother at their home.

Women’s Aid director Margaret Martin said that while the organisation rarely comments on individual cases, they needed to raise their concerns following the appeal.

“We can see that there is real anger at this latest decision and a sense of disbelief that an original sentence for this horrendous crime can be reduced by two whole years,” she said. “It points to an overall lack of understanding of rape within marriage and the links between domestic and sexual violence among the judiciary.”

She said there needs to be “tougher and more consistent sentences” for this crime”.

There were 607 disclosures of sexual abuse made to Women’s Aid in 2017, including 323 reports of rape by a current or ex partner.

Ms Martin said: “While rape in marriage has been a crime since 1990, there has only ever been four hard-won convictions. This is a damning indictment of Irish society.”

Calling for a review of sentencing in marital rape cases, Dublin Rape Crisis Centre CEO Noeline Blackwell said: “While the Court of Appeal recognised the serious nature of the rape, they took the view that it should be viewed in isolation from all the other assaults and threats by the woman’s husband in the same period. This is a matter of great concern to us.

“Over a short period, this woman’s husband threatened to kill her, to cut off her face. Her car was rammed by him, he denied her permission to remove their young son from the house. He put her and her mother and her family in total terror. He hit them with a hammer.

“If the courts are now looking at these rapes in isolation and reducing sentences as if there was no context of the marriage or the breach of trust or the children involved, the Government and the Oireachtas must step in to ensure that sentences in these cases are realistic and recognise the utter gravity and the specific nature of marital and intimate partner sexual violence.”

Ms Blackwell said that the Domestic Violence Bill 2017, which is going through the Oireachtas, provides an opportunity to ensure that the State “actually protects” domestic partners.

Women’s Aid helpline 1800 341 900; National 24-hour rape crisis helpline: 1800 77 88 88


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