The Government is facing mounting pressure to create new mechanisms to provide for consistent sentencing in rape cases, as anger grows over the suspended term handed down to a man who raped his girlfriend while she slept.
The victim, Niamh Nic Dhomhnail, waived her anonymity to express her shock at the sentence handed to her ex-boyfriend, the Norwegian Magnus Meyer Hustveit, at the Central Criminal Court.
He received a suspended seven-year sentence after he had pleaded guilty to one count of rape and one count of sexual assault against Ms Nic Dhomhnaill between 2011 and 2012.
She said she was “very shocked” at the sentence.
“I suppose for me, and I think this is true of people who were there to support me, the judge took his time in giving the ruling,” she told Newstalk radio.
“He seemed to acknowledge the fact that what Magnus did was quite serious, which I didn’t think was going to happen at all.
“In the end of it, it seemed to happen very fast, that he acknowledged in principle the severity of Magnus’s actions, but in reality and in practical terms, that acknowledgement seemed to mean nothing with a fully suspended sentence.
“I’m left reeling, I think my parents are too, and all of my friends who were there to support me.”
The CEO of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, Ellen O’Malley Dunlop, said that admitting to raping and sexually assaulting another person did not make the crime any less serious or heinous.
She said after a national awareness raising campaign last year on intimate partner sexual violence there had been a “significant increase in calls” from victims talking about their experiences of rape and sexual assault by their partners and/ or ex-partners.
Of the Hustveit case, she said: “While seven years is a very serious sentence and it reflects the gravity of the crime committed against his ex-partner, having the full seven years suspended sends out a very bad message to other victims of this most heinous silent crime in Irish society.
“We would also urge [Justice] Minister Frances Fitzgerald to bring the New Sexual Offences Bill before the Dáil before the end of this term.”
Fianna Fáil spokesman on justice, Niall Collins, said that the Government needed to accept legislation from the opposition on the creation of a new judicial sentencing commission. He said legislation brought forward by Fianna Fáil to establish such a commission, similar to the model in England and Wales, is awaiting debate in the Dáil and if implemented, would be tasked with preparing sentencing guidelines for criminal offences.
Criteria for those decisions would include the need to promote consistency in sentencing, the impact of sentencing decisions on victims of criminal offences, and the cost of different sentences and their relevant effectiveness in preventing reoffending.
“Everything about this case has been deeply disturbing,” said Mr Collins.
“When a rape victim publicly says that she thought her attacker would at least spend some tokenistic time in jail for his crimes, something is seriously wrong.”
Speaking outside the Dáil, Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald said the case was “very troubling”, but not unique.
She said while there was no desire to intrude on the independence of the judiciary, she said there may be, “at least among some of the judiciary”, a misunderstanding of the gravity of the crime of rape.
“In my view no convicted rapist should walk away with simply a fine or not serving a custodial sentence, it’s as simple as that.”
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