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UK efforts to dispel myths about sex abuse victims welcomed in Ireland

The Crown Prosecution Service has moved to dispel certain myths and stereotypes about victims.

THE CROWN PROSECUTION Service in the UK has just moved to change the way it handles cases of child sexual abuse and the developments have been welcome, with interest, in Ireland.

Yesterday, the Director of Public Prosecutors published a list of ‘stereotypical behaviour’ previously thought to undermine the credibility of young victims.

He hopes that new guidelines will dispel the associated myths when bringing a prosecution against a man or woman charged with child sex abuse crimes.

“In order that we challenge those past assumptions, I have produced a list of common myths and stereotypes around this type of offending so that we can actively challenge them in court,” said Keir Starmer.

The list includes sentences such as:

The victim invited sex by the way they dressed or acted;

The victim used alcohol and/or drugs and was therefore sexually available;

The victim didn’t scream, fight or protest so they must have been consenting;

The victim didn’t complain immediately, so it can’t have been sexual assault;

The victim is in a relationship with the alleged offender and is therefore a willing sexual partner;

A victim should remember events consistently;

Children can consent to their own sexual exploitation.

“The days of the model victim are over,” continued Starmer.

“In the past five years our approach to prosecuting sexual offences has matured and developed – but this change marks the most fundamental attitude shift across the Criminal Justice System for a generation.

For too long, child sexual abuse cases have been plagued by myths about how ‘real’ victims behave which simply do not withstand scrutiny.

The guidelines, published yesterday, come following a three month consultation which emphasised that the prosecution must focus on the overall credibility of an allegation rather than the perceived weakness of the person making it.

Therefore, prosecutors will focus on gathering all relevant evidence to build strong cases for juries to consider. Prosecutors will also be expected to ensure that any case of child sexual abuse is investigated by the police for possession of indecent images of children as it is a common feature of such cases.

The guidelines will highlight a number of ways in which victims of child sexual abuse are manipulated and blackmailed into keeping quiet about their abuse – including threats to publish indecent images or implicating their victims in other offending.

“We know that child sexual abuse is not limited to any one type of community and that has been addressed.

“But prosecutors need to be aware of the additional barriers that some victims might face in coming forward and reporting abuse, such as fearing the shame that making an allegation of sexual abuse might bring upon their family.

“We know that offenders do all they can to deter their victims from making a complaint and we must be alive to the very nasty manipulation that can be used,” continued Starmer.

Commenting on the developments across the water, Rape Crisis Network Ireland’s director Fiona Neary said the guidelines would be examined very closely by her organisation.

“But just that statement: ‘The days of the model victim are over.’ That is just so welcome,” she told TheJournal.ie.

“We have the same problems here with the idea that there are ‘real victims’. If the victim has been binge-drinking, that can become an issue but the reality is that some children binge drink. There is a need to stop focusing on whether the victim is telling the truth and, instead, investigate the claims.”

Currently, there is an ‘over-interrogation’ of victims, according to Neary.

“To see if what they are saying adds up. We need to shift away from that and focus on the gathering of evidence.”

Read: 240 teenagers treated for sexually abusing others since 1992

Children’s Minister: ‘Child abuse has not gone away…it doesn’t go away’

More: Under-13s most vulnerable to sex assault by male family member

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