The Criminal Justice System Must Support Victims Of Sexual Violence In Every Way Possible

Response to Joint Oireachtas Committee for Justice Report on Victims’ Testimony in cases of rape and sexual assault 

Rape Crisis Network Ireland welcomes the report of the Joint Oireachtas Committee For Justice Report on Victim’s Testimony in Cases of Rape and Sexual Assault published last week and was pleased to have been invited to make a submission and oral presentation to the Committee. The criminal justice system can, and must, support victims of sexual violence in every way possible to give their best evidence, from the time of the offence to trial and beyond, and must ensure that their necessary participation takes place with the minimum risk of their being re-traumatised by the criminal justice process itself. 

The report includes a number of noteworthy recommendations. 

  • Recommendation 6: The Committee recommends the commencement of court familiarisation and court accompaniment services as a matter of urgency. 

RCNI is working with rape crisis centres and others on a proposal to pilot a National Advocacy Project whereby professionalised support and advocacy services run by specialist NGOs, e g rape crisis centres, would provide Garda and Court accompaniment as well as additional tailored individual support, both practical and emotional, from first contact to the end of the case and beyond.  

  • Recommendation 11: The Committee recommends that consent must be incorporated within the new RSE curriculum at both primary and secondary and that programmes of consent are rolled out at third level as a matter of urgency. 

RCNI echoes that targeted and effective education around consent should be implemented immediately. However, in light of recent RCNI research to be released in the coming months, it is imperative that a national policy on sexual harassment in secondary schools be designed and piloted as soon as is practicable. In addition to education on the importance and mechanisms of consent, this policy should encompass a critical look at how social norms and practices contribute to a culture that tolerates sexual harassment amongst children and young people at home, in school and in their social lives as well how the authorities need to take up responsibility for this environment.  

It is RCNI’s view that every victim of sexual violence who reports the offence to the police should be seen as an intrinsically vulnerable witness for the purposes of accessing supports specific to their situation and their capacity. As far as possible, the criminal justice system should identify and accommodate those needs appropriately. RCNI commends the Department of Justice on its ongoing implementation of Supporting a Victim’s Journey based on the recommendations of the O’Malley Report. We look forward to further collaboration to ensure that victim participation on which the whole system of criminal justice depends cannot and should not come at unbearable personal cost to the victims themselves.