Northern Ireland justice chiefs urged to review how courts deal with sex crime victims
Four groups which help victims of sexual crime have written to the Lord Chief Justice and the head of the Department of Justice to ask for a review into how the people they help are dealt with by the courts.
The groups - Victim Support NI, Nexus NI, Women's Aid and the Men's Advisory Project - say victims can be left feeling "invisible and voiceless" in how the police investigation and trial are currently conducted.
They have taken out a full page advert in today's Belfast Telegraph urging members of the public to get behind them to push for a review of the system, taking account of the experiences of victims, headlined "Now is the time for change".
Only a very small number of rape cases result in a conviction. The Daily Mirror recently reported that more than 820 "rapes" were notified to police in 2016/17 - but just 15 people were convicted of the crime by the courts.
The four groups also want a review of the system to examine why the conviction rates for rape and sexual violence are so low.
The advert welcomes the recent increased public interest in the criminal justice system, and how victims/survivors of sexual crime are treated.
"While there have been changes within the system, driven by a greater understanding of the impact sexual crime has on individuals, there is still a considerable way to go," they said.
"As victim centred organisations we have been speaking up and speaking out about these issues for some time.
"We know that one of the most hurtful and damaging experiences for victims/survivors is that they are rendered invisible and voiceless.
"However unintentionally, this can happen as a consequence of the way in which the police investigation and any subsequent trial are managed.
"Victims/survivors feel that they are talked about, not listened to."
The joint message goes on to reveal they have also written to the Permanent Secretary in the Department of Justice and to the Lord Chief Justice to "formally request an immediate independent review of how the criminal justice system handles sexual violence cases".
The groups stress they want the review to take into account the experience of victims, from the moment they report the incident, to the decision to prosecute, the court process, and also how the low level of convictions for rape and sexual violence should be addressed.
"In addition, we have requested that the review considers how present processes impact negatively on victims/survivors, what new processes can be adopted, what legislative changes need to be made, and how adequate and effective support for victims/survivors can be secured throughout the whole of the process."
The groups say that they feel changes are necessary in order to give both victims/survivors and the public confidence in the system.