Minister urged to jail sex attackers

Niamh Nolan

Waterford City Council, in a motion led by deputy mayor Mary Roche, has also called on other authorities to support the action in an attempt to deter sexual offenders and increase the number of cases reported.

Independent councillor Ms Roche criticised the inconsistent sentences handed down to those convicted of rape and serious sexual assault, claiming they do not engender faith in the criminal justices system for victims of sex crimes.

"Rape is a crime of power and degradation... the men and women who overcome the ordeal are treated as mere witnesses to a crime and faced with lenient and suspended sentences," she told the monthly city council meeting.

"We must send a clear message to rapists that if they are convicted they will go to jail," she continued.

The councillor said the high number of suspended sentences and the reduction of sentences on appeal was a worrying feature of the courts system.

"We quite literally must have rapists walking around among us. I want to ask the minister to consider mandatory minimum sentences in these cases," she said.

The Waterford Rape Crisis and Sexual Abuse Centre welcomed the councillor's comments and urged other politicians to lobby for a review of the current sentencing policy.

"We are delighted a councillor is taking such an interest in sexual crime it's probably borne out of our frustrations at the Rape Crisis Centre (RCC) towards the inconsistencies in sentencing, especially at district and circuit court level," manager Sheila Vereker commented.

In the absence of mandatory minimum sentences, the RCC advocates strict guidelines for judges and for research to be carried out into what sentences are passed down.

"There is certainly a need for guidelines around sentencing and a huge need for research into inconsistencies," she said.

"We're hopeful a lot more politicians will get involved and help survivors get what they see as justice."

The Rape Crisis Centre can be contacted 24 hours a day on freephone number 1800 296 296.

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