Sunday 4 December 2016

Rape cases now taking up to five years to get to court

Published 31/05/2015 | 02:30

The failure of the gardai to handle rape cases properly was highlighted in last year's report by the Garda Inspectorate
The failure of the gardai to handle rape cases properly was highlighted in last year's report by the Garda Inspectorate

Rape cases are now taking up to five years to get to trial, with up to a quarter of victims withdrawing their complaints due to stress and depression.

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The State could find itself in breach of the new EU directive due this November if the delays continue at the current levels. The EU Victims' Rights Directive will introduce recommendations on unacceptable delays in serious cases like rape, and member states could face official reprimand - as well as potential international disgrace - for failing to deal with undue delays in such cases.

The Sunday Independent has learned of cases where the length of time from a rape being reported to the case being actually heard in court is regularly up to three and four years and, in one instance, five years since the initial report to gardai. Details of these cases cannot be reported prior to hearing. The acting director of the Rape Crisis Network, Cliona Saidléar, this weekend called for "urgent action" to speed up rape cases.

She told the Sunday Independent: "There needs to be some form of review of cases that are taking this length of time. We are fully aware that some rape cases are complex but there is a need for oversight on delays."

Ms Saidléar added that the State is in danger of being found in breach of the forthcoming EU Victims' Rights Directive. Her organisation and others, such as the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, have repeatedly called for the speeding up of rape prosecutions because of the increased stress and adverse impact on victims.

The failure of the gardai to handle rape cases properly was highlighted in last year's report by the Garda Inspectorate, which found repeated instances of rapes being investigated by frontline gardai with no experience in detective work and no formal training whatsoever in dealing with the sensitivities of rapes.

Lucy Smith, who runs the agency Uglymugs.ie, to assist sex workers, said she is receiving reports of rape "about every week" and multiple other forms of assault and robbery of sex workers, which she says, are not being investigated by gardai.

And she said the situation for sex workers has become so bad that many prostitutes, even some who have been raped, have given up making complaints to the force. It is a known feature of rapists and sex offenders that they often target sex workers before moving on to victims not involved in the trade.

With sex workers losing confidence in the gardai to respond to their complaints, Ms Smith said rapists and sex offenders, who might be detected early, are being allowed to walk free to reoffend. Senior garda sources last week said that a "lack of resources" was central to the failure of the force to adequately investigate even the most serious crimes like rape. They also said the current courts system, where a panel of only four judges hear all rape cases, is a contributory cause to delays.

Last year's investigation into crime detection in the Garda by the independent Garda Inspectorate found disturbing evidence of rapes being left in the hands of untrained 'frontline' gardai to whom the offences are first reported. Its report cited one case in which a woman, who reported being raped by her husband, found her case was sidelined and treated as an ordinary 'domestic' incident.

The report states: "In June 2012, a caller stated that her husband had raped her in the past and had hit her on that day. Caller wanted him arrested, she has five children and is scared. The CAD result is shown as report to station. Although gardaí are shown as spending 62 minutes at the scene of this call, no record of the incident was created on PULSE at the time. In June 2013, a PULSE incident was created for the domestic dispute, and the record says 'husband not present when gardaí arrived. No offences disclosed'. The PULSE record created some 12 months later is in direct conflict with the information supplied to the garda call taker. In this case, a sergeant described the nonrecording at the time as an 'oversight'."

The Inspectorate also found "most worrying" cases, in which reports by a rape victim who had consumed alcohol, were treated as "non crimes" or what are officially termed "Attention and Complaints" and so, not listed in any crime category, or investigated.

Following the publication of the Inspectorate report, gardai increased the number of garda victim liaison officers to 25, with one appointed for each division in the country.

This was in preparation to meet commitments under the EU Victims Directive and ratification of Istanbul Convention on domestic violence. A chief superintendent was also appointed to oversee sexual and domestic-violence case handling.

Sunday Independent

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