Saturday 24 September 2016

Rape sentences must encourage victims to break their silence

Ellen O'Malley-Dunlop

Published 14/07/2015 | 02:30

Ellen O'Malley Dunlop , CEO of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre
Ellen O'Malley Dunlop , CEO of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre

Intimate partner sexual violence is possibly the most difficult crime to prosecute, particularly when you have only one person's word against another's.

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It is one person making the very serious accusation of having been raped and one person denying the accusation.

There are no visible scars, no black eyes. However, we know that most violent sexual crimes are perpetrated by someone known to the victim.

Last year, the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre and Women's Aid, with the support of Cosc - the National Office for the Prevention of Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based Violence - ran a national awareness campaign on the problem of intimate partner sexual violence. Rape Crisis Centres around the country and Women's Aid had experienced more and more victims of this hidden crime, calling the helplines and attending for therapy and breaking their silence.

There was a significant increase in calls to both helplines during the course of the campaign, with victims beginning the slow and difficult process of talking about their horrendous experiences of rape and sexual assault by their partners and/or ex-partners.

Rape is the second most serious crime on our statute books - and so it should be, because of the dreadful, and far too often, lifelong debilitating effects it can have on the victim's life.

So when a case goes before our courts in which the perpetrator admits to one count of rape and one count of sexual assault of his partner, it will attract a lot of attention.

Attention from many quarters, from the media, the general public and those of us working in the field.

But the most pertinent attention will be from all those victims who have reported a similar crime perpetrated against them and whose cases have not gone to court because of what is usually a lack of evidence.

And it will attract attention from those victims who have not reported the crime because the victim has been either too afraid and/or too ashamed to report the crime.

One in 10 reports these crimes. Of the one in 10, only 7pc get a conviction. In Ireland we have one of the highest fall-outs from actual reporting to getting to court.

In the case of Magnus Meyer Hustveit, we witnessed an unusual situation whereby he admitted that he had raped and sexually assaulted his partner.

His victim did not have to endure the harrowing experience of the court process and she delivered a very heart-rending victim impact statement, as was her right.

He received a suspended sentence of seven years.

Seven years is a very serious sentence and it reflects the gravity of the crime committed.

However, having the full seven years suspended sends out a very bad message to other victims of this most heinous silent crime.

We want more victims to come forward and report these crimes so that the perpetrators will not be afforded the ability to commit these crimes of rape and sexual assault with impunity.

The fact that an accused person admits to the crime of rape and sexual assault does not make the crime against his victim any the less serious or heinous, and the sentence should reflect this reality.

We want more victims to stay the course of the criminal justice system so that they can get justice and perpetrators will not be allowed to commit these crimes with impunity.

Ellen O'Malley-Dunlop is CEO of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre. The National 24-hour helpline for victims of rape and sexual assault is 1800 77 88 88.

Irish Independent

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