'People impacted by sexual assault need the justice system to be more victim-centered'

'People impacted by sexual assault need the justice system to be more victim-centered'

The criminal justice system 'fails to adequately support victims engaging with it, at what is an extremely difficult and emotive time' according to justice committee Cathaoirleach, James Lawless. Picture: Denis Minihane

A more victim-centred approach must be taken by the criminal justice processes for those impacted by sexual assault, according to a report from the joint committee on justice.

The report argues that a more victim-centred approach would help make more victims feel encouraged to come forward to report such crimes and could reduce the possibility of retraumatisation of victims.

System 'fails to adequately support victims'

Committee Cathaoirleach James Lawless said: “The witnesses provided the committee with insight into several areas in need of reform, where it appears that the current system, for a variety of reasons, fails to adequately support victims engaging with it, at what is an extremely difficult and emotive time in victim’s lives.

Evidence given stressed the need for more information and resources to be available to victims of sexual assault and it was put to the committee members that victims needed continuous support throughout the process and not just for the trial itself. 

According to Mr Lawless, the committee was also very concerned to hear reports which suggested that less than 10% of victims report incidences of sexual assault or rape to the gardaí.

Low rate of prosecution and conviction

Concerns were also raised that the rate of prosecution and conviction of these crimes is much lower than that of other serious offences. 

"The committee learned that in 2018, only 11% of reported rape cases resulted in a conviction — which was a slight increase of 3% from 2008,” he added.

A number of key areas of concern were raised by witnesses and committee members, including the issue of delays in court trials proceeding, the need for specialist training of frontline professionals that interact with vulnerable victims, and the need for improved court services and facilities to make them more suitable for victims.

“The committee has taken that evidence and we have put together 14 strong recommendations to help build a better system,” Mr Lawless said.

"A copy of this report has been sent to the Minister for Justice, and the committee looks forward to working proactively and productively with the minister to create a more supportive system with the lowest levels of trauma for those involved in proceedings."

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