'We must stand with sex victims'
Facing down attackers in court is a public service, says McAleese
Published 17/01/2010 | 05:00
A powerful appeal to the Irish people to stand by victims of sex assaults who "face down" their attacker in court was made yesterday by President Mary McAleese, who said victims were carrying out a crucial public service by going to court.
In a clear message to communities around the country to fully support victims of rape and sexual assault, she said: "Every time a victim faces down an attacker in court they deserve support, respect and gratitude from the public."
"For theirs is not just a personal service or a personal crusade but a crucial public service."
Her remarks come weeks after the intimidation of a woman at the centre of the Listowel sex assault case which shocked the country. Just before bouncer Danny Foley was sentenced for sexual assault at the Circuit Criminal Court in Tralee, a queue of up to 50 people, mainly men, sympathised openly with him.
His victim claimed she was intimidated by his supporters both at the hearing and also by people in Listowel.
Mrs McAleese, who made no reference to the case in her speech at a conference on rape law in Dublin Castle said: "Victims who take on their attackers through the courts not only vindicate their own trauma and take back control over their lives but they help to seriously limit the freedom of would-be rapists to continue their violent behaviour."
Speaking about the setting up of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre 30 years ago she said that the centre had contributed considerably to greater public awareness of the multiplicity of issues raised by sexual violence and the downstream consequences for victims.
She said: "We are no longer as ignorant, naive or silent as we were 30 years ago.
"An insight into the chilling price paid for that silence was graphically set out in the Ryan and Murphy reports, both of which unmasked the dangers of a culture of unaccountability and left worrying questions about the areas of vulnerability to sexual violence and abuse which are still protected by cloaks of secrecy, privacy and noblesse oblige."
She went on: "As a society, we are strong post-Murphy and Ryan. As a society we are stronger every time a rapist or sexual predator of any kind is called to account and held to account before our courts.
"But we would have no such reports and no successful convictions without victims who are prepared to initiate and sustain the process that leads over months and sometimes years to a court verdict.
"That process, of its nature, carries no guarantees in terms of outcome but one thing is sure, if a victim does nothing for whatever reason, then his or her rapist will grow in confidence and in opportunity to wreak further havoc in the lives of the innocent."
At the same conference, the Director of Public Prosecutions, James Hamilton, proposed major reform of the country's jury system -- including the use of anonymous juries to defeat intimidation -- and the inclusion of more middle-class jurors.
Mr Hamilton also spoke of inconsistent case law in the "ad hoc" Court of Criminal Appeal because of the numbers of different judges sitting there, and he wanted a permanent Court of Appeal set up.
The DPP also revealed that garda files in 60pc of cases sent to the DPP's office recommended against prosecution, due to lack of evidence.
He said because of exemptions from jury service, the professional middle classes appeared to be under-represented on juries while jury trials should be broadly representative of society. The number of challenges without cause which can be used to distort the balance of a jury in relation to age, class or gender should be limited, he said.
Juries should be protected from intimidation by having completely anonymous juries sworn in, and where there was such a risk, by allowing evidence to be heard behind one-way glass screens or video link; while the 19th century method of summoning juries with people hanging around for long periods of time before being sent home should be updated by the greater use of information technology to summon and select juries.
Mr Hamilton also said figures show the rate of prosecution in rape cases was falling and he would attempt to answer why through an examination of files in his office.
Senator Ivana Bacik said new research showed that judges granted defence applications to introduce evidence about the sexual history of rape victims very frequently, and one commonly used defence argument was that the victim was "promiscuous", which strengthened the myths about rape and potentially undermined evidence on the part of the victim.