Social media warning for sex assault victims

Victims of sexual assaults have been urged to stay off social media over the following day for fear that it could compromise a prosecution.

Niamh Ní Domhnaill, Tom O'Malley, Catherine O'Sullivan, Noeline Blackwell and Eabha O'Gorman at the UCC conference. Picture: Eddie O'Hare

The advice came from Tom O’Malley, senior lecturer at the School of Law at NUI Galway and also a member of the Law Reform Commission.

Speaking yesterday at a conference in UCC on sex offences and the law, he said even general posts on social media about the previous day or night of an incident could mean the prosecution is left facing “an uphill battle”.

“Do not send out tweets, do not send out Facebook messages,” he said, referring specifically to the 12-hour period following a sex attack. He said even a general comment, such as “it was the best night ever”, created difficulties for a prosecution case.

Speaking afterwards, Mr O’Malley said that he would be happy for the Law Reform Commission — currently planning its next three years of work — to focus on sentencing structure and sentencing discretion.

There was much criticism at the perceived leniency of the sentence handed to Tom Humphries last week for sexual offences involving a minor, and Mr O’Malley said while he disagreed with much of it, guidelines in sentencing might help.

“Guidelines, or maybe encouraging courts to give guidelines,” he said, adding that in 2014 the former court of criminal appeal gave guidelines for two offences — serious assault and serious firearms offences — and they had been working well.

“I would be encouraging the present court of appeal to be more willing to give those types of guidelines,” Mr O’Malley added.

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