ACJRD Annual Report 2009: Perspectives on Sex Offending
The Association for Criminal Justice Research and Development (ACJRD)’s 12th Annual Report was launched last week by Minister for Children Barry Andrews. The Report, Perspectives on Sex Offending- The Victim and the Offender contains the proceedings of the ACJRD’s October conference, and is an excellent source of information for researchers and criminal justice professionals dealing with sex offending.
Attendees at the plenary sessions were treated to fascinating papers on the reform of the Scottish investigation and prosecution of sexual crimes; attrition in rape cases; policy formulation on the management of sex offenders; and the effectiveness of psychological intervention with male sex offenders.
Of particular interest to criminal justice professionals and researchers are the insights offered by Professor Michele Burman of the Scottish Centre for Crime and Criminal Justice Research into attrition in rape cases. Prof Burman presented some of the findings of a 2009 Daphne Study which looked at attrition rates across the EU. One very welcome finding is that reporting rates have increased across Northern and Western Europe. In fact, the Irish rate of reporting has increased by 505% since the 1970s. Unfortunately, however the number of prosecutions has not kept pace with this increase, and stood at a mere 20% of reports in 2007 (down from 73% in 1977).
A rather alarming statistic jumps out on a reading of the research findings: of the 100 people who reported rape in the Irish section of the study, a fifth of had mental health problems. Prof Burman notes that this was one of the highest proportions in the study. When this statistic is considered alongside the finding that in Ireland most attrition (82%) takes place in the early and mid-investigation stages, there is a clear need for more attention to be paid to the system’s initial engagement and treatment of complainants in rape cases. Perhaps the avoidance of additional stressors such as having to travel 100 km to the nearest Sexual Assault Treatment Unit (which is what happens when a rape is reported in Tralee and the victim must travel to the SATU in the South Infirmary in Cork) would help victims in this regard.
Due process and constitutional fair trial rights in the context of sexual offences prosecutions were also examined by the conference. Mr Bobby Eagar, of Garrett Sheahan Solicitors co-ordinated the the Workshop on Allegations of Sexual Offending and the Rights of the Accused. Sinéad Ring (i.e. I) was the rapporteur. I have written on the difficulties facing defendants in historic child sex abuse cases in the most recent issue of the Judicial Studies Institute Journal available here
The workshop grappled with the myriad due process challenges that are thrown up in historic child sex abuse cases, including the forensic difficulties posed to the accused by the delay in reporting and the lack of findings of fact:
Judicial review applications for prohibition in historic child sexual abuse prosecutions are not made with
as much frequency as they were prior to the decision of the Supreme Court in H v DPP  IESC 55.
The number of prosecutions for alleged historic child sexual abuse has not necessarily lessened. The focus now is on prosecutorial delay and on substantive prejudice to the defence. Unfortunately in sexual
offences there are usually no witnesses. However, there are opportunities for testing the evidence against the accused in historic cases. For example, inconsistencies between statements of the complainant to the Gardaí and the evidence in court can be highlighted. Any gaps between the statement and the testimony can be drawn out in court, and highlighted in the speech to the jury. Despite this the danger of an unfair conviction is still very high. The DPP is more likely to prosecute older historic child sexual abuse cases than recent complaints of rape. This is because issues arise in recent cases in relation to consent and to the lack of or the probative value of forensic evidence.
The Report is available at www.acjrd.ie.