New film highlights impact of rape
Police hope a new hard-hitting film highlighting the devastating impact of rape will be their best weapon in the fight against sex crime.
Almost 200 serious sexual offences were reported in Northern Ireland during a six-month period between April and September with a further 533 rapes reported last year.
Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) Detective Superintendent Brian Hanna said: "Rape is devastating for the victim. The psychological effects can last a lifetime, with some victims never fully recovering from their ordeal."
This short film is aimed at young people aged between 16 and 25 years old and will be used as part of an educational campaign that coincides with the start of the new academic year.
Mr Hanna added: " One of the dangers is alcohol reducing the ability to make the right decisions. This can leave people vulnerable to attack. Just because someone is not capable of saying 'no' doesn't mean that you can have sex with them.
"Freshers' week is now under way and we would urge people to be mindful about their personal safety and how much alcohol they drink and to act responsibly. Sex without consent is a crime that can lead to a criminal conviction as well as life-changing implications for the victim and the accused.
"While sexual assault can be an opportunistic crime it is often committed by someone known to the victim. We know that the majority of rapes occur in the early hours of Saturday and Sunday morning and are often linked to a night out."
The film is also being launched against the backdrop of a major police investigation into child sexual exploitation in Northern Ireland.
At least 22 suspected victims aged between 13 and 18 years old have been identified and around 30 people have been arrested as part of the probe. It is alleged that vulnerable young people, many of whom were living in care homes, were targeted, groomed and forced to perform sex acts sometimes during drink and drug-fuelled parties.
Debbie Watters, who sits on the Northern Ireland Policing Board, said the new DVD, which can be viewed on YouTube, carried a clear message about the consequences of rape.
She said: "With freshers' week in full swing, we want to ensure that people are aware of their rights and responsibilities as the consequences could be life changing."
The Youth Justice Agency (YJA) has also backed the campaign.
"This hard-hitting DVD will alert young people to the dangers of getting themselves into situations where they may be more vulnerable to sexual violence, particularly where alcohol is involved," said YJA chief executive Paula Jack.
Northern Ireland's first sexual assault referral centre opened in April to provide services and support to sex crime victims under one roof.
To date, the facility at Antrim Area Hospital has dealt with around 150 people.
A Policing Board committee discussed this week's revelations on child exploitation.
Member Jonathan Craig said the committee had some concerns about the time lapse between the recommendations from a Barnardo's report in 2011 and the initiation of the high-level investigation into child sexual exploitation which commenced in June 2012.
"There is no doubt that individual police officers and teams in public protection units are highly committed to their work in this area. However, this gap in responding highlights a lack of co-ordination between key statutory bodies which members want to see addressed without delay," he said.
"That message is one to all the agencies involved who must come together to work in collaboration in the best interests of the child."
Members were highly concerned about the suspected victims identified in this investigation and stressed the necessity that work continues to be undertaken to identify and protect with immediate effect other potential victims.
"Members recognise the challenges for the PSNI in communicating with vulnerable young people and the complexities involved. This committee wants to see a concerted effort between all the relevant agencies working in this and other areas where the protection of vulnerable people is concerned."