Ulster rape trial: Number of sexual offences in 2017 ‘tip of the iceberg’

RCNI's Cliona Saidléar.

Rape Crisis Network Ireland has said the number of sexual violence offences recorded for 2017 is only the “tip of the iceberg” as they only represent those who report a crime against them.

RCNI pointed that, according to the Central Statistics Office’s crime statistics, in 2017, all recorded sexual offences rose by almost 17% with rape up 28% and rape up 28%. Sexual assault (non aggravated) was up 15%.

Cliona Saidléar, RCNI’s executive director said the increases were very significant. But she also said her organisation recognised that the CSO was releasing the figures from gardaí “under reservation” for the first time since they were suspended at the end of 2016.

“This is a compromise between having the continued unacceptable absence of all statistics and releasing some that have not yet reached an acceptable standard but which give us a good indication of what those numbers are,” she said.

“The large changes in reporting numbers in sexual offences from 2016 — 2017 tell us why this release, even if under reservation, is so important.”

Ms Saidléar said that as the CSO was not satisifed that the headcount of reported crimes and classification of reports was dependable, it took the decision to cease releasing knowingly inaccurate statistics.

“This was the only decision possible under basic data governance standards,” she said.

“RCNI made this same decision with our own rape crisis data in 2016 as the complete lack of funding from government meant that the RCNI could not support standardisation and verification processes.”

She said in order for statistical data to be truthful or meaningful one had to be able to say that the base data entering the system at every point was consistent, standardised, accurate, and verified.

“To talk about data in statistical terms you also need enough data to make any sort of meaningful contribution to knowledge,” she said.

“Indeed you also have to have the numbers to ensure safety and privacy for your data subject. This is the fundamental ethics of data for statistical purposes.”

Ms Saidléar said the current situation with sexual violence statistics in Ireland “means that we have all too little statistical insights into sexual violence”.

“Given the nature of the crime in our culture this lack of insight arises, in part, out of the silence around the issue,” she said. “These crime statistics only represent those who report and are therefore the tip of the iceberg.

“But in the places where survivors make themselves known to us, such as in reporting a crime or contacting and a rape crisis centre, we must take seriously our duty to learn and evidence as much as it can in an appropriate, legal, and respectful manner. We must not continue to shape our responses and prevention strategies in the absence of such basic knowledge.”

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