Rallies held across country in support of survivors of sexual crimes

Survivors of sexual crimes are being urged to report what happened to them

Rallies held across country in support of survivors of sexual crimes

Protestors outside the General Post Office (GPO) on O'Connell Street in Dublin today, 29-03-2018. Image: Eamonn Farrell/RollingNews

Rallies are being held across the country this lunchtime in support of survivors of sexual crime.

Calls and donations to rape crisis centres spiked in the wake of yesterday's verdict in the Belfast rape trial.

All four men were acquitted on all counts after the nine week trial.

The verdict sparked debate on the public nature of the trial on both sides of the border - and raised questions over the treatment of rape complainants in criminal investigations.

The complainant in this case spent eight days in the witness stand.

Reporting

Both the PSNI and Northern Ireland's Public Prosecution Service PPS have urged all victims of sexual violence to report what happened to them.

Marianne O'Kane, head of the PPS Serious Crime Unit said all survivors that if they come forward they will be "treated with sensitivity and respect throughout" any investigation.

PSNI Detective Chief Superintendent Paula Hilman said the verdict "should not deter victims of serious sexual crime from contacting police."

"We understand how difficult it can be for someone to report a rape, but let me assure you today that if you choose to speak to police, you will be listened to, respected, treated sensitively [and] have your report thoroughly investigated," she said.

“We will continue to work hard to improve outcomes for offences of rape and sexual assault.

"Our message is clear, please continue to report.”

"Chill factor"

Speaking in the Dáil this afternoon, the Tánaiste Simon Coveney said it is important to remember the trial was conducted under the rules of a different jurisdiction:

"We should not be drawing conclusions from what happened in a different jurisdiction in terms of what might happen here if people are brave enough to come forward," he said.

"There is undoubtedly a chill factor that comes from the coverage that we have seen of  the case that we witnessed in recent weeks.

"I think that as policy makers, we need of course to respond to that and make sure that there is an appropriate response here."

Statistics

According to the Rape Crisis Networks Ireland (RCNI) Annual report for 2015 - the most up-to-date report available - 65% of survivors who attended 11 rape crisis centres in Ireland did not report the crime to Gardaí or other formal authority.

The RCNI produced national statistics between 2005 and 2015 - however they have been unable to do so in the years since following government funding cuts.

Charities have consistently warned that a lack of clear data on violent crime against women in Ireland has left the problem “grossly underestimated.”

DRCC chief executive Noeline Blackwell has called for a large research project on sexual abuse in Ireland to be carried out, noting that no formal research has been undertaken since the ground breaking SAVI report in 2002.

A sign at today's rally outside the GPO in Dublin. Image: Juliette Gash

Funding

Solidarity TD Ruth Coppinger says she’ll be raising the matter in the Dáil today:

"The Government must fund rape crisis centres and violence against women agencies," she said.

"They must assist victims to prosecute their cases fully and be supported in doing that."

Social commentary

The public nature of the trial and its accompanying commentary on Twitter has raised questions about the use of social media during proceedings.

Ms Blackwell warned that "social media took the opportunity of a trial about intimate, private, very personal matters and managed to vilify and excoriate all concerned in it."

Trial Judge Patricia Smyth was critical of social media commentary throughout proceedings - and reminded the jury not to pay attention to it.

Barrister Michael O’Higgins doesn’t think any trials have been negatively affected – yet.

"I think judges have said on occasion that this is something that has to be closed down and will be closed down if people don't start to regulate it themselves."

The PSNI has warned that it is investigating those who named the complainant on social media during the trial - breaching her legal right to anonymity.

"Vile commentary"

Speaking outside Belfast Crown Court yesterday, Paddy Jackson's lawyer Joe McVeigh said "vile commentary" on social media throughout the trial had "polluted the sphere of public discourse and raises real concerns about the integrity of the trial process."

On Newstalk Breakfast meanwhile, Stuart Olding's solicitor Paul Dougan  said many on social media 'saw themselves as a reporter and social commentator.'

"The comments, the postings, the views expressed by people who knew nothing about the case other than that which they read or the snippet that they read on social media - I must say I have never seen anything quite like it," he said.

If you have been affected by anything mentioned in this article you can contact the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre National 24-Hour helpline on 1800 77 88 88.