Sunday 16 December 2018

Abuse victim tossed around political arena like a broken toy

'The vitriol directed against Mairia Cahill after she withdrew her complaints against a suspected IRA man she accuses of raping her, was simply off the scale'
'The vitriol directed against Mairia Cahill after she withdrew her complaints against a suspected IRA man she accuses of raping her, was simply off the scale'
Dearbhail McDonald

Dearbhail McDonald

The secondary victimisation of rape and sexual violence victims by the criminal justice system goes a long way to explaining why so many cases drop out before an accused is charged, let alone tried and convicted.

The island of Ireland boasts notorious attrition (drop out) rates when it comes to the investigation and prosecution of complaints of sexual violence, itself a great pity as we have - in the Republic at least - quite healthy conviction and sentence rates once they do pass prosecutorial muster.

This secondary victimisation by the system can, to many complainants, feel as brutal an assault on their person than the acts of sexual violence they initially suffered. This, in turn, leads victims to withdraw and perpetrators to act with impunity.

The vitriol directed against Mairia Cahill after she withdrew her complaints against a suspected IRA man she accuses of raping her, was simply off the scale.

Mairia Cahill was abused, vilified, slut-shamed and tossed around the political arena north and south of the border like a broken toy. "Good Republicans" sneered at her - and two other women who alleged they had been abused by Morris during their childhoods who also withdrew their complaints.

The three women, who early in 2010 made reports of alleged sexual abuse between 1997 and 2000, had taunts hurled at them four years later that their claims were never tested in court.

That much is true and the IRA suspect enjoys his presumption of innocence.

But what is truly staggering is how long Mairia Cahill and her fellow complainants stayed the course for as long as they did.

Mairia Cahill, who became the prime target for Republican contempt, had to contend with the abuse she suffered. She also had to endure her treatment by the IRA and the Omerta that still surrounds Kangaroo Courts and the Republican movement's internal "justice" system.

And when she finally found the courage to report her abuse, Mairia Cahill was utterly failed by the authorities including Public Prosecution Service (PPS) in Northern Ireland which handled two linked prosecutions involving sexual abuse and terrorist-related charges.

That failure was expressly acknowledged yesterday by Barra McGrory QC, the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland who apologised to the three women after an independent review by Sir Keir Starmer, QC, found that they were "let down by the PPS and counsel".

The failures identified by Mr Starmer are myriad and shocking.

Mr Starmer acknowledges, early in his 45 page independent review of the PPS's handling of the cases, the fact that this was the first time that the PPS had received complaints involving allegations relating to an internal IRA investigation of alleged sexual abuse.

Notwithstanding those evidential difficulties, Mr Starmer found a host of problems including a lack of case planning, confusion leading to poor oversight and failures by senior staff and barristers to analyse how to treat the sexual abuse evidence and allegations of IRA membership in Ms Cahill's case. All three cases were thwarted by unacceptable delays and inadequate communication.

Mr Starmer notes that each case became weaker over time as key witnesses pulled out, evidential leads were not pursued and the strength of having three complainants in the sexual abuse case was lost, along with a loss of their faith in the system.

The review highlights how it was inevitable the women would pull out of the process.

What is staggering is how each and every failure, perceived and real, was tracked by Mairia Cahill who wrote impassioned emails to the authorities warning that her case was weakening with every passing day.

Mairia Cahill and her fellow complainants were vindicated by Mr Starmer, but at a great personal cost.

Irish Independent

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