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New sex bill is limited but deserves to be passed


Picture is posed

Picture is posed

Picture is posed

If Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald manages to pass the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill before the General Election, it could surpass her previous greatest achievements of driving the same-sex marriage referendum to completion and steadying the ship that is the troubled justice sector.

The law on sexual offences is, in many respects, not fit for purpose, especially in the light of crimes perpetrated against children, many of whom are groomed by predators on online networks and the reach of child pornography networks.

Criminalising the purchase of sex has proved controversial in some quarters, but may go a long way to protecting prostitutes and victims of trafficking.

The penalties, €500 for the first conviction and €1,000 for subsequent ones, feels like a mere slap on the wrist, but publicity surrounding these convictions may have a more deterrent effect.

For victims, the prospect of being cross-examined personally by your accused in court is a deterrent that contributes to Ireland's brutal attrition rates for sexual offences. Children will be shielded from that prospect.

Sadly, adults won't.

Another welcome measure is the move to prevent accused persons from unnecessarily "fishing" through complainants' counselling notes. That will now be regulated.

The absence of a statutory definition of consent is puzzling, especially in the absence of any public policy reason for excluding it.

Its absence is also notable days after the Government backed a high-profile 'sex without consent is rape' campaign.

Dáil time is running out, but the bill deserves our broad, if qualified, support.

Irish Independent