By Umberto Bacchi
LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation)
Sexist views about rape are hampering justice in Northern Ireland, where many still link the way a woman dresses with assault, a former judge said on Tuesday as he called for jurors to be trained to debunk such myths
John Gillen’s conclusions, in a report on the handling of serious sexual offences, came days after protests broke out across Ireland over a defence lawyer’s suggestion that a 17-year-old girl’s choice of underwear indicated consent.
“Frustratingly, many people, men and women, still harbour often unspoken views about appropriate behaviour for individuals according to their gender,” Gillen wrote in his report.
The retired judge said jurors should be trained to explain the fallacy of views such as that people who drink are looking for trouble, while wider education campaigns were also needed.
The interim report published on Tuesday is part of an independent review of how the Northern Irish justice system deals with rape cases and contains more than 200 recommendation.
Only 15 percent of defendants charged with rape in Northern Ireland this year were convicted of the offence, said the report, commissioned shortly after a Belfast court acquitted two rugby players of rape.
Gillen also recommended public access to courts in such cases be restricted to close family members, claimants given free legal support, and that the scope of cross-examinations be restricted.
Protesters took to the streets last week after a 27-year-old was acquitted of rape by a court in the Irish city of Cork. They were angered by the defence lawyer’s use of a teenage girl‘s lacy thong to imply consent.
Women’s rights groups said the report’s recommendations could also apply in Britain.
“There is massive worry and anger about the state of justice for rape across the UK,” said Sarah Green, co-director of End Violence Against Women, a campaign group.
Last year, police recorded more than 150,000 sexual offences in England and Wales, where one in five women reports having experienced sexual assault since the age of 16, according to government data.
“Unfortunately, negative rape stereotypes are widespread and the result is that victims are being discouraged from coming forward because they fear being blamed,” said Tsitsi Matekaire of women’s rights group Equality Now.
(Reporting by Umberto Bacchi @UmbertoBacchi, Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)