Ellen O’Malley-Dunlop’s warning comes as Government officials flag the danger of the European Commission taking legal proceedings over Ireland’s continuing failure to implement an EU directive on sex crimes.
This requires new laws, including in relation to child pornography, grooming and the rights of victims.
Children’s rights campaigner and senator Jillian van Turnhout said she has been waiting three years for the Government’s legislation and described the lack of laws to deal with child pornography, which she describes as online child abuse material, as “reprehensible”.
Ms O’Malley-Dunlop, chief executive of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, said rape and sexual assault were subjects surrounded by ignorance, fear, and myths and the continued failure to talk openly about “these heinous crimes” added to the growing problem.
Writing in today’s Irish Examiner, she said: “Myths and widely held but ill-founded beliefs about sexual assault and rape contribute to the fear which victims experience in seeking help or reporting their experiences. Frequently people are afraid they will not be believed, or will be blamed for provoking the incidents. This contributes to the silence that continues to surround crimes of sexual violence.
“Sometimes we are told that people don’t want to hear or read any more horror stories about rape and child sex abuse, but unless we talk about these heinous crimes in our society, and try and understand why they are committed, they will remain underground and continue to be committed.”
Rape Crisis Network Ireland, an umbrella body, said the Government’s Sexual Offences Bill was “long overdue” and called on Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald to announce a publication date and consultation period urgently.
The department received approval by the Cabinet last December to draft the wide-ranging legislation.
Department officials have warned Ms Fitzgerald: “The December 2013 deadline for implementation of the EU directive has already passed and there is a danger that the EU Commission will initiate proceedings against us.”
In a briefing document, officials said: “There are a number of potentially controversial issues associated with this legislation. The Government still have to resolve the question of the age when a person can legally consent to sex.”
In response to questions, a department spokesman said that it was not possible to indicate when the bill would be introduced.
He said Ireland already had “extensive legislation” criminalising the sexual abuse and exploitation of children, including child pornography, and said this had been communicated to the European Commission.
Ms van Turnhout said she took “particular exception” to this and said our laws on online child abuse were “extremely lacking”.
She said: “Ireland hasn’t taken any action on child abuse material, which is reprehensible. I want a system to filter images, that are in place in the UK and Northern Ireland and on mobile phones.”
She said she was “very concerned” when the bill would be published, which she has been promised since 2012.