Getting the priorities right
So we’ve gone from one State visit straight into another. Queen Elizabeth II has been and gone – to rapturous applause and the clinking of many glasses and tomorrow Barack Obama is arriving for a whistle stop tour to prove his mandatory Irish lineage. It’s a good time to bury news.
We’re so busy preening and primping while in the world’s spotlight that stories that should have monopolised front pages are being bumped down the news schedule. To my shame I’ve been as bad and am only getting around to writing this post now.
If you haven’t already heard, the story that emerged this week was that the HSE (Ireland’s Health Service Executive, who hold the purse strings for our struggling health service) are considering cutting all core funding for the Rape Crisis Network. The plan was to cut funding at the end of May but a stay of execution was announced last week that will delay the decision until August 1.
That they should even consider cutting the funding to the RCN is scandalous but sadly all too predictable in these straitened times. There will be many babies put out with the bathwater as the whole country spasms in agony at the body blow that financial ruin and bailout have dealt. But the RCN do an extraordinary job. They collate all the information for the Rape Crisis Centre and it is thanks to them we have facts and figures for the levels of sexual assaults and rapes in this country. Apart from cutting the RCN’s funding the HSE is proposing changing the data collection method (which, shock horror, uses computers) and replace it with a paper reporting system. I don’t even have words for the stupidity of that idea.
It’s been a week when rape has been in the news more than usual. In England justice secretary Kenneth Clarke put his foot in it in a rather spectacular fashion by appearing to suggest that some rapes were worse than others. While the arrest of IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn on sex charges in America has led to a debate on French attitudes to sexual impropriety. Finally there was the judge in England who actually criticised the alleged victim in an abuse case for not coming forward sooner. But the fact that Ireland isn’t alone in making dumb pronouncements when it comes to rape doesn’t make it all right.
I’ve covered a lot of rape and sex abuse trials during my years covering the courts. I’ve often pointed out the fact that on an average day in the Central Criminal Courts the majority of trials will be about an attack by a man on a woman. I’ve written about my views on sentencing both here and on the Antiroom blog. It’s always shocking when you look at the court lists for the Central and see the number of rape trials before the courts. Most of them don’t get reported, rape is an anonymous story that doesn’t ring many bells with newsdesks. But when you cover the courts you hear it all. All the details too raw to write. You hear the stories of shattered childhoods, the brutal fumblings in a filthy doorway after a night on the town went hideously wrong. The women destroyed because some animal jumped out at them as they walked home alone and brought true every nightmare. The children manipulated by monsters, persuaded to accept for a time a grotesque parody of normality. You see the women picked apart in the witness box by lawyers working on behalf of their attacker, their character questioned as justification is sought.
We have the presumption of innocence in Irish courts so it has to be like this but that realisation doesn’t make it any easier for the victim. During the trial they can’t even be acknowledged as the victim as that presumption is always there. Going to court is a second trauma and it’s one they shouldn’t have to face alone. It’s the Rape Crisis Centre that can help pick up the pieces. Journalists can only observe, lawyers can only prosecute or defend. But the counsellors at the Rape Crisis Centre can start to put the person back together. It’s the Rape Crisis Centre that picks up the pieces of all the women who can’t face going to court as well and that’s how we get those all important figures.
. We need those figures. The Rape Crisis Centre support people right the way through. As it is the Victim Support Service in the courts has been suspended since last year. How can we ever hope to get a system that properly punishes rapists when so few cases actually end up in court? If we don’t have the figures how can there ever be sufficient support? If victims don’t have access to support then how can they be encouraged to report the crime against them? This is a story that shouldn’t be forgotten, that can’t be ignored. If there’s any chance that the RCC could be closed down it should be shouted from the rooftops. If you think that the Rape Crisis Network is a necessary resource that needs to be kept in this this country then write to Dr James O’Reilly, the Justice Minister and like the RCC on their Facebook Page here.