Reported child rapes ‘tip of iceberg’

THE increase in child rape cases reported to the gardaí last year is the “tip of the iceberg” in relation to the true scale of child sexual abuse, a leading children’s charity said yesterday.

Children at Risk in Ireland (CARI) said the 106 cases reported to gardaí in 2009 – up from 82 in 2008 – represented only a fraction of the 2,300 allegations of child sexual abuse reported to the HSE in 2007.

CARI chief executive Mary Flaherty said the HSE had confirmed 719 of these cases and the remaining 1,400 were unconfirmed, but not disproved.

“In 2007, there were 719 confirmed cases , we’re not taking into account the rest, but only 106 were reported to gardaí last year. Where are the rest going?” she said.

“If, even, you said around half of the 2,300 cases were true, that’s around 30 a week. We know from research that, for adult rape, the number of convictions is very low. For children it is lower again.”

Ms Flaherty said child abuse cases tended to be “extremely difficult to prove”. She said: “It’s often the evidence of the child versus the adult, and the adult almost always denies it.”

For those cases get to court, the system itself is very daunting for children, she said: “The court system is very adversarial. It’s very hard on children.”

In relation to the 29% jump in reported cases to gardaí between 2008 and 2009, Ms Flaherty said the increase was more than likely due to a rise in cases reported and investigated following the introduction of emergency laws to fix a legal crisis in 2006 and 2007.

After the Supreme Court ruled the law on statutory rape unconstitutional, as it did not allow the defence of an honest mistake regarding the age of the victim, the Government introduced legislation bringing in such a defence.

“I don’t think these figures are suggesting a huge increase,” said Ms Flaherty. “2008 was the first full year of the new laws and they now are being used more generally and we may be going back to original levels.” The CSO figures show there was a dramatic fall in cases after 2005, with only around 75 cases in 2006 and 2007. After legislation was brought in, the cases began to rise in 2008 and rose higher again in 2009.

Ms Flaherty said further law reform was needed. She said the offence of defilement of a minor was “very specific” and referred to rape-type offences and not the full range of child sexual abuse.

She said the Law Reform Commission had recommended a general offence of child sexual abuse but said there has been political “inertia” in implementing it.

* CARI helpline: 1890 92 45 67, 9.30-5.30pm Monday to Friday.

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