Marked decline in number of rape cases coming before courts

THERE has been a steady drop in the number of rape cases getting to court in the past five years.

Only 52 new rape cases went before the Central Criminal Court last year. Latest statistics produced by the Courts Service show that 130 new cases went for trial in 1999; 113 in 2000; 92 in 2001 and 82 in 2002.

The statistics also show that 100 cases were completed last year, a figure that has been increasing since 1996 when the number of new cases coming before the courts, at 48, was the same as the number disposed of.

Sixty-one people were convicted of rape and other sexual offences last year. There were 19 acquittals. The jury failed to reach agreement in three cases and 10 were dropped.

Chairperson of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, Breda Allen, said court statistics only represented the visible tip of Ireland’s serious sexual violence problem.

Once a trial was taking place, she said, rape crisis centres and all the other agencies involved with sexual assault victims needed to get together with the courts and the Gardaí to identify when an offence occurred. In that way, the case could be related back to the statistics for the year in question.

DRCC research carried out in 2002 showed that fewer than 8% are prepared to report sexual violence.

Ms Allen told RTÉ radio that people were disinclined to report sexual violence because they thought their situations were trivial compared to other attacks highlighted by the media. Also, most people assaulted knew their assailant.

Victims of sexual violence needed to be encouraged to come forward.

“It is not shameful to be assaulted. You are fully entitled to walk down a street in the middle of the night and not be assaulted. Young women are entitled to dress in whatever way they wish and not be assaulted. In a murder case, provocation may be a defence. In a rape trial the only defence is consent,” she said.

Last April the DRCC launched the first part of a programme to help people break the barriers preventing them from disclosing sexual violence.

The SAVI (Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland) Report, published two years ago, found that 47% of people had experienced sexual violence but, up to the time they were cold called by the researchers, had never told anyone about it.

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