Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 19 April 2014

Why victims of rape need support they can rely on

I live near Colin Glen forest park where a young woman, an American tourist, was viciously raped in April last year

Normally when such assaults take place, the only other time we hear about them is when someone appears in court. That happens far too infrequently. Only around 6% of reported rapes result in a conviction and far from all rapes are even reported.

But this brave young woman did not go quietly into the sunset. She set out her version of events — and it must be stressed that these are her version of events – and they make uncomfortable reading.

First let us deal with the positive things to emerge from the shameful attack.

The most important was that the perpetrator, who was only 15 when he carried out the rape, was jailed for eight years and will serve another two on probation when he finishes his prison sentence.

However, it should be remembered that he was not tracked down by wonderful detection, but rather handed himself over to police voluntarily. Oh, that it was always that easy to solve a crime.

The other positive development was that the victim found her treatment in the Rape Crime Unit of the PSNI was good. It doesn’t seem that long ago that women in a similar position dreaded the thought of going to the police where they felt they were degraded for a second time by the predominantly male force.

Nowadays rape victims are treated much more sympathetically and much more professionally. They do feel that the police care about catching the perpetrators and have empathy with the victims.

But sadly for the woman who was a visitor to our shores, that was the end of the good news, if that is an appropriate expression.

According to her report, she didn’t feel that the justice system kept her up to speed on the investigation or whether or not she would have to give evidence in person or via a video link. How horrifying it must be for any woman to give evidence in front of some low life who has raped her.

She says that it took 10 months to tell her that a service like Victim Support exists and she also points out that one of the principal counselling services for victims of rape, the Nexus Institute, exists on a hand to mouth basis because of limited government funding and lack of volunteers.

Pointing out that there is at least one rape in Northern Ireland every day on average — and those are only the ones reported — she wonders if society and the authorities really take the problem seriously.

This woman, who came here as a visitor and was subjected to horrible cruelty, asks uncomfortable questions of our society. Sometimes it takes an outsider to see the deficiencies in our community and to ask if we could not — indeed, should not — do better.

This woman was failed on a number of fronts.

Support services were deficient, she was not given sufficient information to which she was perfectly entitled and compensation for her attack took far too long to be processed.

She even felt her treatment in hospital was brusque rather than comforting.

Rather than take umbrage, as seems the normal reaction here when any statutory body is challenged, perhaps we might examine her complaints and see if services to rape victims can be improved.

Once they have been assaulted, they certainly should not be insulted.

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