Naming of sexual assault victims online is 'of great concern'

The O'Malley Review of Protections for Vulnerable Witnesses in the Investigation and Prosecution of Sexual Offences was published yesterday and contained 50 recommendations on how sexual offence trials such be approached.
Naming of sexual assault victims online is 'of great concern'
Minister for Justice & Equality, Helen McEntee TD, and Mr Tom O’Malley of NUI Galway, as they launch the O’Malley Review of Protections for Vulnerable Witnesses in the Investigation and Prosecution of Sexual Offences. Picture: Sam Boal / Photocall Ireland

The naming of victims of sexual violence on social media is "of great concern", the author of a review into sexual offence trials has said.

The O'Malley Review of Protections for Vulnerable Witnesses in the Investigation and Prosecution of Sexual Offences was published yesterday and contained 50 recommendations on how sexual offence trials should be approached.

Its author, barrister and NUI Galway law lecturer Tom O’Malley, said more needs to be done to prevent the names of alleged victims being spread online.

"That's something that is of great concern. One of the recommendations we make is that just as there is a prohibition on a person or a victim, being named or accused person being named in broadcast, or public broadcast, or a publication. I see no reason why that should also apply with equal regard to the social media insofar as they can be controlled," he said.

"We are recommending that, in relation to some of the older legislation governing rape, which dates back to the early '80s before you had social media at all, that there would be a more detailed review of the definitions of broadcast and print media, and broadcast media in particular, just to ensure that they're broad enough to cover wrongful disclosure over social media.

"We are all we all know it's very difficult to control but I think we have to do the very best we can to ensure that it is controlled."

Justice Minister Helen McEntee said she believed that social media could be controlled and said her priority was ensuring that Ireland's legislation kept up with technological changes.

Mr O'Malley also said that his recommendation that an application be made to question a victim about other sexual experiences "only in exceptional circumstances" would also ensure that victims are no longer surprised with questioning.

"It serves a number of functions," he said. 

"First of all, it serves to put the victim on notice that this may happen rather than it be hopped upon them, so to speak, at the trial."

"There is another much more important issue which is that since 2001, a victim of those circumstances, is entitled to separate legal representation while the application is being made in court."

Often, he said, it can be difficult to get legal representation which is at the same level as the person who is representing the defendant or prosecution in court because the legal aid board, which is responsible for providing such representation, often has to act very quickly to source this representation.

The review has been broadly welcomed by NGOs who deal with sexual violence, despite some criticism of the retention of anonymity for accused people, something Ms McEntee said went to the "cornerstone of our justice".

CEO of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre Noeline Blackwell said that the report made clear that sexual violence was unique to other crimes.

"The Rape Crisis Network of Ireland's Executive Director Dr Clíona Saidlear said that the review was "a credible and concrete response".

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