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Thursday 23 March 2017

Promiscuity claims in court 'add to rape myths'

Dearbhail McDonald Legal Editor

ALMOST half the rape suspects who try to introduce evidence of the victim's previous sexual history at trial claim that their victim is "promiscuous" or displays sexually suggestive behaviour.

A new study on separate legal representation for victims in rape trials has revealed that seven out of 10 rape suspects who wish to use the victim's "sexual experience" in their defence are granted permission to do so. In Ireland, lawyers acting for rape suspects must seek a judge's permission to introduce "sexual experience" evidence at a trial

Almost half the suspects who do so claim that their victim is promiscuous, while a similar percentage try to rely on the fact that he/she had previous sexual relations with the accused or others.

In a tiny number of cases, suspects have tried to utilise the fact that a woman uses contraception to justify an examination of her sexual history before a jury

"Our research shows that judges grant defence applications to introduce evidence about the sexual history of rape victims very frequently," said Senator Ivana Bacik, who led the study commissioned by the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre (DRCC).

"This is despite the highly prejudicial nature of the reasons being offered by the defence. In particular we found one commonly-used defence argument was that the victim was "promiscuous".

"This sort of argument, unfortunately, strengthens the myths about rape and has potential to undermine the victim's evidence in court."

In 2001 the law was changed to allow rape victims to apply for legal aid to enable her or him to argue against the introduction of evidence relating to past sexual history.

Since then, rape suspects must notify a complainant that they wish to adduce evidence of the victim's sexual experience.

To date, the legal aid procedure has only been used in a minority of cases, but numbers are increasing as more victims become aware of the procedure.

Ms Bacik's research has revealed that one fifth of complainants who are notified that a suspect wishes to introduce sexual experience evidence seek separate legal representation to oppose the application.

The research, which was conducted in collaboration with the DPP's office and the Civil Legal Aid Board, will be presented to President Mary McAleese today at a special conference organised by the DRCC.

The conference, which will be chaired by High Court Judge Paul Carney, will also be addressed by Mrs McAleese and James Hamilton, Director of Public Prosecutions.

The research was based on rape and sexual offence cases that were tried before the Central Criminal Court between 2003 and 2009.

Irish Independent

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