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'Those who are committing sexual offences aren't being properly held to account'

Only 11% of sexual offences reported last year were detected by gardaí.

Image: Shutterstock/Shaynepplstockphoto

THE FACT THAT almost nine out of every 10 sexual offences that were reported to gardaí last year have still not been solved is a “worrying” situation, according to the CEO of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre (DRCC). 

New data published by the Central Statistics Office (CSO) yesterday shows that only 11% of sexual offences reported last year were detected, lower than any other type of crime.

In contrast, 85% of controlled drug offences, 81% of public order offences and 75% of murder/manslaughter offences during 2018 were counted as detected.

The low figure for sexual offences is attributed to the introduction of a new method for detecting crimes. It follows controversy over previous figures, with the CSO expressing doubt about the reliability of information provided by gardaí in recent years.

Yesterday, gardaí said that although the number of detections for sexual offences appears to have dropped, the difference in the new method for counting crimes means the latest data is not comparable to previous figures. 

Speaking to TheJournal.ie DRCC CEO Noeline Blackwell said it is “worrying” that the detection rate is so low. 

Blackwell noted that along with the low detection rate, “very few” people who are victims of sexual assault actually report the crime to gardaí. 

“You have a situation where as a society we are in a place where those who are committing sexual offences aren’t being held properly to account and that’s a worry,” Blackwell said. 

Gardaí also said yesterday that it is important for victims of crime to be confident that the force’s method of detecting crime is clear and accurate, so that they know their investigation is being properly managed. 

However, Blackwell said:

The gardaí are making the point that they would like victims to have confidence in the system – it’s not so easy when detection rates are so slow and when everybody knows and agrees that even engaging with the justice system is hard in the first place.

She added that she is not confident that victims of sexual assault will be “enthusiastic” about reporting the crime after seeing the latest detection figures. 

“If they feel that it’s going to be hard to report and have it investigated anyway, and then if there’s only a one in 10 chance that it will be detected, and given that most people know the person they’re complaining about … it could make for a difficult life,” Blackwell said. 

The DRCC runs a 24-hour confidential helpline. 

Blackwell said when people call the number, it can be hard for many to open up to the operator about what happened. 

“So, the thought of reporting into a system where detection rates are so low is a problem,” she said. 

RCC 485 Dublin Rape Crisis Centre CEO Noeline Blackwell Source: Sam Boal via RollingNews.ie

Going to trial

In August, Blackwell told TheJournal.ie that in the DRCC’s experience, delays and long waits for sexual offences and rape trials are also turning some people off persisting with their case. 

“If you were raped last week and you went and reported it this week to the police you could expect that depending on a few factors the investigation would be completed within a couple of months,” Blackwell said at the time.

“Then it would go to the DPP [Director of Public Prosecution] and if a prosecution was proceeding you would be told about that within another month or six weeks.”

However, she said in the centre’s experience a person might then wait two or three years before the case reaches the court – and there may be adjournments when it does go to trial, which would also lengthen the time. 

Some of the latest court cases seen by DRCC recently date back to seven years ago, but the more typical ones it is seeing in court right now date back to 2015 and 2016, said Blackwell.

Speaking yesterday, a garda spokesperson said that although some detections appeared to be low, the force would still support victims of crime and do everything to bring perpetrators to justice.

“The huge message that we’re trying to get out today is to give confidence to the victims of crime to come forward,” he said.

“It is hugely important that they gain confidence from this step, and that detection is one issue and one element of [an investigation].

We have made lots of other changes to improve the investigative process. So we want to take the opportunity to give a clear message that the victims of crime, we need them to come forward.

New method

Yesterday’s publication marks the first time that the CSO has published detection data since December 2016, and follows the introduction of a new method for counting crime. 

Under the previous detection method, a crime was counted as detected when at least one suspect in a case was identified.

This detection was entered on the garda PULSE computer system manually by an investigating garda.

However, under the new system, a crime is counted as detected when at least one suspected offender is identified and charged, given a court summons, or given an adult or juvenile caution.

The detection is logged automatically on PULSE, which gardaí believe will remove human error and enable investigators to fully comply with recording rules.

The new figures relate to crimes solved in 2018 up to August this year.

Blackwell believes that the new system of counting crime “looks far more reliable” than the previous system. 

“I think once the CSO is happy to report on them I’m happy to receive them because they have been doing a lot of work with the gardaí and the gardaí with them,” she said. 

The Rape Crisis Centre national 24-hour helpline is 1800 77 8888.

With reporting by Stephen McDermott

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