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Sexual crime victims need more support
[Posted: Tue 06/07/2010 by Deborah Condon www.irishhealth.com]
The support and information available to victims of sexual abuse and violence in Northern Ireland needs to be improved and the speed at which these cases are dealt with by the justice system needs to be accelerated, a new report has found.
According to Sexual Violence and Abuse, which examined the effectiveness of the criminal justice system in responding to and handling cases of sexual violence in the North, such crimes are ‘notoriously difficult to investigate and prosecute successfully'.
As is already well documented worldwide, only a small proportion of crimes of sexual violence are reported to the police. Research estimates the figure to be anywhere between five and 25%. Furthermore of those that are reported to the police, a large number drop out as they progress through the justice system.
After a sexual crime is reported in Northern Ireland, just over half are sent by the police to the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) for a decision. Of this number only around one in four proceed to trial. The conviction rate for those cases that go to court is 57%.
However the report emphasised that the conviction rate for crimes of sexual violence relative to the number that are reported is ‘very low'. For example, in relation to rape in Northern Ireland, the figure is around 7%.
"The inevitable conclusion is that a substantial number of victims do not access the criminal justice system. With such high rates of under-reporting and attrition, the justice system must take all lawful steps open to it, to ensure that victims of sexual violence and abuse experience the best possible service under very demanding circumstances," said Dr Michael Maguire, the Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland.
He noted that the inspection highlighted a number of areas where the performance of the justice system could be improved. In relation to the needs of victims and survivors, three clear messages emerged from the inspection:
-Firstly, there is a need to provide better support and information to the victim throughout the process as their case progresses and moves from one justice organisation to another.
-Secondly, the speed with which cases are progressed needs to be accelerated so that the trauma and anxiety - for both the victim and the accused - is not unduly exacerbated.
-Thirdly, there is a need for justice organisations to continually review the reasons why cases do not progress through the justice system and take appropriate action where necessary.
Other issues that were highlighted in the report included the way in which calls to the police were initially handled and elements of the court process.
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