Thursday, 5 July 2018

Questions (3)

Jim O'Callaghan

Question:

3. Deputy Jim O'Callaghan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if he will address the fact that Central Statistics Office figures show an increase in sexual offences of almost 15% in 2017; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29826/18]

View answer

Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Justice)

Last week the Central Statistics Office published its recorded crime figures for the first quarter of 2018. Those figures reveal that in respect of sexual offences there was a 14.7% increase of recorded crime. When we consider this in light of the figures from the previous quarter, that is the last quarter of 2017, there appears to be a significant increase. The figures for the fourth quarter of 2017 showed a 17% increase in sexual offences, with a 28% increase in rape. What are these figures saying to the Minister and what, as Minister, does he intend to do about it?

As I stated last week when the latest crime statistics were released by the CSO, the rise in the recorded incidents of sexual assault, and particularly incidents of rape, is something the Government continues to take very seriously. Those found to have committed such abhorrent crimes will face the full force of the criminal justice system.

While the Deputy will appreciate that the investigation of sexual offences is conducted by An Garda Síochána in the first instance, the Government has also moved to strengthen the legislative provisions in place to deal with these crimes. In this context, the Deputy will be aware that the enactment of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017 was a significant development of the law on sexual offences, putting in place a statutory definition for consent to a sexual act. This definition is both clear and wide-ranging, to ensure that the law is succinct and clear in what constitutes rape in this jurisdiction. Furthermore, the Act identifies those most vulnerable to sexual exploitation and it targets those who would take advantage of that.

In addition, the Government recently approved the drafting of two further pieces of legislation. These are the criminal law (sexual offences) (amendment) Bill, which will provide for presumptive minimum sentences for repeat sexual offenders, and the sex offenders (amendment) Bill, which proposes a number of amendments to the Sex Offenders Act 2001 following a review of the management of offenders under that Act. The scheme also includes provisions for the electronic monitoring of sex offenders, and court powers to prohibit a sex offender from working with children. It is my hope that both pieces of legislation will be progressed through the Oireachtas as expeditiously as possible. I am, of course, very open to improvement of these Bills by amendment as they go through the Houses

I assure the Deputy that the Government remains committed to ensuring a strong and visible police presence throughout the country in order to maintain and strengthen community engagement and provide reassurance to citizens. I assure the Deputy not only about my concern at these latest figures but also on my commitment to act to ensure that we, as Government, do our best in the circumstances.

The continuing increases are very worrying. The reason for them may be twofold. It could be because there is greater public confidence and people, particularly women, are coming forward to make complaints. However, there is an alternative explanation for it, which is that, regrettably, the incidence of sexual offences, including rape, is on the increase. We need to identify what is the cause of it and this requires further research. It would not surprise me if it was the case that the rate of sexual offences is on the increase when we consider the fact that very many young men are learning about their sexuality from the Internet and pornography on the Internet, which presents women in a very submissive and malleable way. We need to be very careful about these figures. It is not just a matter for An Garda Síochána. It is a matter for policy makers. We need to ensure there are greater resources and training for An Garda Síochána. The Garda and the State need to work more co-operatively with the Rape Crisis Centre and we need to provide greater support for complainants. If I walk out of here and I am assaulted there is no doubt that I will report it to the Garda. Unfortunately, it appears to be the case that very many female victims of sexual offences do not make complaints because of concern about the arduous nature of what is involved.

The Deputy has raised a number of issues. I assure him that in terms of Garda resources I am very conscious of the unprecedented level of resources made available to the Garda Síochána in the current year. I am very keen this will continue. The Deputy made a very important point insofar as determining the causes of the increases in the statistics. In this regard I announced in the aftermath of a well-publicised rape trial in Belfast a review of the investigation and prosecution of sexual offences. That review is examining all aspects of the investigation and prosecution of offences to ensure there is a compassionate and fair system in place. I agree with Deputy O'Callaghan when he speaks about the need to ensure an atmosphere of toleration on the part of complainants. I have to say the review will be taken forward by the Department in consultation with relevant agencies in the criminal justice sphere, many of whom I have already met, and I will be very happy to keep the House updated in this regard.

When victims of sexual offences and rape are interviewed after the trial process has completed they state they find the whole process very harrowing and a very surprising experience. I introduced legislation last week to amend the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Act to provide a complainant at the earliest stage with advice and information in respect of what the process would involve. Will the Minister look at this carefully? It is necessary that we provide greater support to complainants and victims of sexual offences at an early stage. It is simply the case, and I do not know the explanation for it, that people who are the victims of sexual offences and rape do not approach the Garda with complaints with the same enthusiasm as other individuals who are victims of other crimes. There is a reason for this. I welcome the review the Minister has indicated is ongoing. A similar review is going on under Lord Justice Gillen in Northern Ireland and I ask that we also take into account his conclusions when his report is published.

I would be very keen to do so and in that regard I would welcome an early return of the Executive in Northern Ireland to allow me interact on a face to face basis with an appropriate colleague in the Executive.

To ensure that victims and complainants feel comfortable coming forward to report their experience it is important that we have sufficient training on the part of the Garda. In that regard I want to point out the establishment of the National Protective Services Bureau to oversee the investigation of a range of crimes, including sexual offences. The divisional protective service units are staffed by dedicated officers and will include the investigation of sexual offences in their remit. To date the training in these units has concentrated on domestic abuse. I am very keen this will move forward. I acknowledge the importance of the training workshops and I assure the House that every effort will be made to ensure the Garda Síochána has an appropriate level of resources to facilitate a level of training that accords with best international practice.