Saturday 20 January 2018

Sex assault victims 'not able to call on forensic evidence'

Eilish O'Regan Health Correspondent

FORENSIC evidence from many distraught victims cared for in the country's main sexual assault unit cannot be used, damaging the chance of criminal prosecution in the case.

The Sexual Assault Treatment Unit in the Rotunda Hospital in Dublin looked after a record 353 female and male patients last year.

But due to trauma and other issues, 67 felt unable to report the alleged assault to gardai at the time of treatment.

The unit's medical director Dr Maeve Eogan said that unless a report is made, and a garda is present at the time the victim is treated, the forensic evidence cannot be used if the victim later wants to make a formal complaint.

She told the Irish Independent that the other seven centres face the same difficulties.

"If they wish to pursue a criminal complaint the gardai have to be here when we take the forensic samples," she said.

"We have to confirm the continuity of evidence and the garda must take them to the forensic science laboratory to ensure no interference.

"We know that many victims of sexual crime disclose afterwards. At that point the possibility of taking forensic samples is lost,'' said Dr Eogan. "Sometimes people don't have the strength to report to the gardai at the time of the incident because it happens in the middle of the night.''

She said the unit is now trying to work out a system whereby staff can take the forensic samples and the patient would have time to think about reporting to the gardai.

Freezer

"The samples would be stored in a time-sensitive manner in a very secure unit and we could confirm they were safe and no interference took place.

"It could mean the acute trauma of the event would not impact on the person's ability to make an informed decision,'' said Dr Eogan.

She said an inter-agency group is developing a national guideline about how this would be carried out.

"The development of the guidelines is in its final stages at the moment. It is not expensive. It just involves a secure freezer with alarms and a generator to ensure power is not lost. They need to be in a locked press.

"If the patient decides after a year they do not want to make a report the samples would be destroyed."

Last year men accounted for 5pc of the patients who sought help from the unit.

Irish Independent

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