Concern at number of rape cases reaching court

RAPE and sexual assault offences are on the rise but Ireland has the highest number of criminal cases collapsing before they reach the courts, it emerged yesterday.

Rape crisis support groups yesterday demanded reform of criminal investigation processes as the number of rape cases brought before the courts, here, halved in the past six years.

New figures also revealed less than half of accused rapists were convicted. And one-in-three rapists, it further emerged, were handed down jail sentences of less than five years.

The Dublin Rape Crisis Centre yesterday expressed concern at the number of cases concerning rape and sexual assault reaching the courts last year.

“Unfortunately, the numbers getting to court do not in any way reflect the number of crimes committed in this area,” the centre claimed.

The annual report of the Courts Service showed 58 new rape and sexual assault cases were heard by the Central Criminal Court in 2006 — an increase of 30% on cases taken in 2005, but less than half of the 113 cases taken in 2000.

The centre’s chief executive, Ellen O’Malley-Dunlop, said: “We have known for a long time about the phenomenon of under-reporting. It is not unique to the Irish system but what is unique is that, compared to 20 other European countries, Ireland experiences the highest number of cases falling out of the system before they ever get to court.”

She insisted: “We need reform at all levels of the process:

Making sure that we have designated trained gardaí taking the initial report and following it though.

The lifting of the secrecy of the DPP’s decision to proceed or not to proceed with a case.

Co-ordinated supports throughout the whole system.

The Rape Crisis Centre suggested its figures did not correlate with the Courts Service annual report.

“In 2005, there was a 20% rise in the number of people we accompanied to the Sexual Assault Treatment Units (SATU).

“In 2006 this figure rose again by a further 20%. We are not seeing a decline in the number of victims coming forward. We are pleased that people are feeling confident to come and use our services, but they are not feeling comfortable coming to the courts,” said Ms O’Malley Dunlop.

First-time callers to the centre’s helpline were up by 10% from 3,849 in 2005 to 4,266 in 2006.

She said there was a lot of anecdotal evidence to suggest women are no longer reporting sex crimes against them. However, she urged women not to be put off by the latest figures.

“We have a low reporting rate and it has been dropping steadily over the years.

“People are extremely reluctant to come forward for many reasons. One big deterrent is that the rapist is often know to the victim,” said Ms O’Malley Dunlop. “The other thing is the length of time it takes from reporting until a case comes through to the court.”

A number of things need to be addressed, she said. “We would like to see why cases don’t go through to the courts after a file is sent to the DPP. There is also a problem with the time lag between reporting a rape to the gardaí and the case getting to the DPP.”

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the Court Service said a number of improvements were being considered, including dedicated victim support rooms in all courts.

The Rape Crisis Centre runs a national free phone help line: 1800-778888

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