Compensation deals raise justice fears
SEX and money are uneasy bedfellows.
The Oireachtas is weighing up whether to criminalise men who buy sex, but not the women who sell it.
At the same time, there is a growing discomfort that men (for it is mostly men) who are convicted of sexual assaults, are avoiding jail if – along with other mitigating factors – they pay financial compensation to their victims.
Last year, a sex attacker avoided jail after he paid his victim €15,000.
Judges are aware of the risks posed to public confidence in the administration of justice by sex offenders who can afford to pay victims.
Earlier this year, a senior judge warned that the practice of sex offenders offering money to their victims to mitigate their sentences was yielding inconsistent results in sexual assault cases.
A 1993 law allows compensation to be considered in mitigation of sentence.
But High Court Judge Mr Justice Peter Charleton was concerned about the "money" factor following an analysis by the Judicial Researchers Office of sentences handed down for sexual assaults.
"If money can be raised by the accused, the legislation says that it can be a mitigating factor. But if it cannot be raised because the accused and his family are poor, where reasonably does justice stand?"
Thankfully, a recent a review of rape sentences conducted by Judge Charleton has shown that lenient sentences are rare, with almost one in four rapists having received sentences of 15 years to life imprisonment.
The civil courts are increasingly recognising the harm caused to abuse victims, as witnessed by a series of landmark awards.
Perhaps it is the civil, rather than the criminal, arena that should deal with financial compensation to ward off perceptions of cash-for-leniency for those abusers who can afford to pay their way out of jail.