Mar 8, 2022
Sex violence causes long term physical, psychological and emotional trauma, which is then exacerbated by our flawed legal system. The legal process sex crime survivors endure is so painful that legal experts have called it the ‘second rape.’ We emphasise to the Oireachtas the urgency of this issue and to take any possible steps to reduce distress.
We ask all parties to commit to ending the second rape in Ireland. We ask the Minister for Justice to make an annual progress report to the public outlining what they have already done and further intend to do to improve the legal process for sex violence complainants.
1. We appreciate the recommendation in The Department for Justice’s Review of Protections for Vulnerable Witnesses in the Investigation and Prosecution of Sexual Offences on the exclusion of the public from all sexual offence hearings, not just rape cases. This is due to the highly intimate and private nature of the crime, and similar to family law cases, should protect the privacy of the complainant.
We endorse the following recommendations made by Dr. Susan Leahy in her report, ‘The Realities of Rape Trials in Ireland: Perspectives from Practice’:
2. That judges advise juries to focus on the facts of the case and to put aside rape myths at both the start and end of the trial. This is because juries will most likely be influenced by the time the trial ends.
3. A statutory definition of sexual experience evidence is formed to ensure that irrelevant and potentially biased information regarding the complainant’s private life is not unnecessarily referred to during the trial process.
As pointed out by Dr. Leahy, consideration should be given to Rape Crisis Network Ireland’s proposal that sexual experience evidence be ‘broadly statutorily defined…to include references to pregnancy, miscarriage, abortion, contraception and other indicia of sexual activity’.
4. An accessible legal aid scheme that is extended beyond section 26(3A) of the Civil Legal Aid Act 1995. This would mean that legal advice would be made available when survivors report offences, extending to all sexual offences, and legal advice and advocacy is provided by a designated panel of specialised legal professionals.
5. A delayed trial often deters many from pursuing a case, as well as having a significant impact on a complainant’s recovery. We implore the State to adopt recommendations given by the Gillen Review in Northern Ireland to reduce the significant delay survivors face when awaiting hearings. Such suggestions include:
- Very experienced Gardaí Síochána overseeing file quality in every case involving serious sexual offences before it is submitted to the Director of Public Prosecutions. Specific training should be given to those appointed.
- Mandatory early proactive communication and engagement between the legal representatives of both parties in serious sexual offences.
- At the first hearing, target dates for the processing of the case are arranged.
While we find that the above points are a crucial stepping stone, there exists many other suggestions that deserve examination in the Gillegan Review.
We ask the Oireachtas to assess the current trial system sexual assault survivors face. We understand it is part of the adversarial system to ensure guilt beyond reasonable doubt and to ensure the rights of the accused, but in the context of sexual offence trials it is often the complainant placed on trial. We ask that the State works to build a process that co-operates more than works against a survivor of sexual assault. We recognise systemic change takes time, but we implore the government to facilitate discussion and public engagement on this issue.
Undermining Attitudes Within Rape Culture.
We demand all politicians agree to a general code of conduct. This should specify:
- How to address contested allegations of domestic abuse and sexual abuse relating to party members.
- An agreement to immediately suspend or remove party members who have admitted to a sexual offence or domestic abuse or have been complicit in the cover up or failure to address these crimes.
- We ask all representatives to be conscious of victim blaming, bullying tactics and attempts to discredit survivors and also encourage awareness among their supporters.
We hope an agreement on this will empower more people to come forward, while simultaneously ensuring our system does not protect violent abusers and sex criminals.