Monday 22 October 2018

Revealed: One in three rape offences result in partially suspended sentence

  • In more than a third of rape offences, a partially suspended sentence was imposed
  • Victims of rape and sexual assault demand a change in sentencing
  • Calls for minimum and maximum sentencing to end inconsistency
  • Lenient jail sentences 'have real impact on survivors', claims advocacy group
Melissa O’Keeffe watches as her sister Amy Barrett speaks outside court after their father Jerry O’Keeffe was jailed for 10 years. Photo: Collins Courts
Melissa O’Keeffe watches as her sister Amy Barrett speaks outside court after their father Jerry O’Keeffe was jailed for 10 years. Photo: Collins Courts
Rape Crisis Network administrator Claire Geldhill and executive director Cliona Saidlear at the launch of group’s annual report. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins
Catherine Devine

Catherine Devine

ONE in every three rape offences in Ireland resulted in the offender receiving a partially suspended sentence, Independent.ie has learned.

While all 257 cases of rape offences resulted in imprisonment, new figures show that in a third of all rape offences (97), a partially suspended sentence was handed down by the judge at the Central Criminal Court in 2016.

Now, victims of rape have called on the courts for more structured sentencing saying that "no rapist should ever get a suspended sentence".

Amy Barrett, who was raped and abused by her father for almost a decade told Independent.ie that lenient sentences were "hurtful and upsetting" for victims.

8 NEWS Amy Barrett90380929.jpg
Melissa O’Keeffe watches as her sister Amy Barrett speaks outside court after their father Jerry O’Keeffe was jailed for 10 years. Photo: Collins Courts

Amy and her sister Melissa O’Keeffe were abused by their dad Jerry O'Keeffe from from January 1980 to March 1987.

O’Keeffe, aged 68, a retired soldier, of Oakhill, Youghal, Co Cork, pleaded guilty at the Central Criminal Court last November to three charges of rape, five of indecent assault and one of sexual assault.

He was jailed for 10 years, but this was later reduced to eight years.

Speaking to Independent.ie, Ms Barrett called for more structure in sentencing.

"After my dad was sentenced we had some happiness," she said.

"We were happy because he was sentenced to 10 years in jail and we felt like that was a good amount of time. But we were also unhappy because no sentence can ever make up for what he put us through. No amount of time in jail balances what the victim went through and will continue to go through for the rest of our lives.

"I think 10 years imprisonment sends out a good message that abuse and rape is not right. It sent us the message that the courts believed our story and recognised the seriousness of the crime that my dad did to us."

Ms Barrett said that she believes that a minimum and maximum sentence should be imposed for sex crimes and rape.

"I think 10 years is a good start for a minimum sentence. But there should be no changes to that sentence. I was very angry and upset when I heard that my dad's 10-year sentence had been reduced to eight years because of good behaviour in prison.

"He only had his foot in the prison cell and he already had 20 per cent of his time knocked off. It's very unfair when years and years get knocked off the sentence that was deserved simply because of overcrowding in prisons. What victims go through is traumatic. We only go through court to see justice and we rarely do."

The court figures also show that in 2016, 704 offences of rape were dealt with by the Central Criminal Court, of these 142 saw a guilty plea entered. Another 279 went forward for trial (leading to a 48pc conviction rate). There were 160 offences deemed ‘nolle prosequi” - meaning prosecution was not pursued at this time.

A further 118 were taken into consideration which may occur when an offender is sentenced on multiple other offences. One case was quashed and in four cases the accused was listed as deceased.

Ms Barrett said that no rapist or sex attacker should ever get a suspended sentence.

"If my dad had got a suspended sentence, I would have thought that the courts didn't believe my story. After my dad went to jail, I thought I could finally get on with my life but it's not that easy. If your attacker gets a suspended sentence and is walking out of court after you, that is terrifying.  What we went through is already so traumatic. The courts owe us some justice."

However, senior counsel Sean Gillane, who has vast experience dealing with cases in the Central Criminal Court, said that minimum sentencing shouldn't be introduced in the courts.

"Undetermined sentences, which range from zero to life, are always going to vary depending on particular circumstances.

"Generally, when a longer sentence is handed down there are a number of factors. These include a breach of trust such as was the rape carried out by a family member, the age disparity between the attacker and victim and the level of violence used in the attack. Those factors tend to push a sentence into the higher scale."

Mr Gillane said that he doesn't support minimum sentencing.

"There is a maximum sentence and that is life imprisonment. Rather than a minimum sentence there should just be a clear indication of the kind of things that push a sentence up the higher end of the scale. Once that is known, it is up to the judge to make an informed decision.

"Fully suspended sentences are very rare for rape cases but the option should always be available to the judge for extraordinary cases where a suspended sentence might apply."

Lenient sentences can have a real impact on survivors

Cliona Saidlear, Executive Director at the Rape Crisis Network Ireland, said that lenient sentences can have a "real impact on survivors".

"Where there are lenient sentences, or those that appear to be, passed on to convicted sex offenders it can have a real impact on survivors. It is important that of the very few cases that make it to conviction that justice is seen to be done. This sends a message to all survivors that they are believed and supported. It also sends a message to would-be perpetrators that may act as a deterrence.

20 NEWS CC RCNI R (4).jpg
Rape Crisis Network administrator Claire Geldhill and executive director Cliona Saidlear at the launch of group’s annual report. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins

"All cases are different and we must continue to rely upon the judge’s discretion but we believe that we should support that process of deliberation by the judge with sentencing guidelines.

"Where a sentence falls short of expectations we need to understand why. The guidance, the judge and those reporting the judgment must seek to lay out the full rational for a sentence so that we can better understand and if necessary seek a challenge to the sentence."

Online Editors

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News