04 January 2010

Disgraceful court experience of victim of sexual assault exposes continuing societal prejudice

Fine Gael Senate Leader & Spokesperson on Health, Senator Frances Fitzgerald has said the disgraceful court experience of a victim of sexual assault in County Kerry yesterday (Wednesday) exposes the continuing social prejudice against victims of sexual crime.

Speaking in the Senate this morning, Senator Fitzgerald said: ‘It is astonishing that yesterday in a court house, dozens of people queued up to shake hands and sympathise with a man who had been convicted of sexually assaulting a young woman. This experience in a Circuit Criminal Court shows how this country continues to fail to protect and support victims of rape’.

“The judge, Mr Justice McDonagh, praised the dignity of the victim, saying the convicted man’s actions ‘gave the lie’ to character statements. He also noted that little or no remorse had been shown by the rapist and that no apology had been offered to the victim.

“In the Oireachtas we have recently been discussing the Ryan Report and the Murphy Report -both which documented the inability or refusal of the ‘officer class’ within the Church to believe allegations of abuse made against one of their own. Society roundly and rightly condemned them for this and today we have finally seen a bishop resign, with four others expected to follow. "Fifty people queued in a court of law yesterday to console a man convicted of sexual assault while the victim was left isolated and as a result we really must question ourselves as a society. The conviction, the victim and the severity of the crime have been undermined. A report from the Rape Crisis Network of Ireland (RCNI) entitled ‘Rape and Justice in Ireland’ states that: ‘A victim in court is treated with very little respect’ with one victim describing the ordeal as a ‘very lonely kind of place’.

“In light of the actions in the court house yesterday and the recent report by the RCNI, we must ask ourselves as a society – as a community – how we react to crimes of a sexual nature and the current level of support offered to victims of such crimes. We need to examine our own societal prejudice.

“To ignore this issue any longer will be to the detriment, not only of victims but to society as a whole. I am calling on the Minister for Justice to examine this report and to open the debate on how rape and sexual assault victims are treated in Ireland and the implications for the Irish criminal justice system.”