Editor's Viewpoint: Lack of convictions over rapes shocking
In today's paper we carry the truly shocking report that rapists in Northern Ireland can effectively act with impunity, and this should act as a dramatic wake-up call to our police, judiciary and health and social care services.
New statistics which were published yesterday by the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) would suggest that fewer than 2% of the cases passed on to prosecutors in fact lead to a conviction.
In the past year alone, prosecutors handled more than 600 cases involving a rape allegation, but only 10 people were convicted. This is a figure which almost beggars belief.
Even the number of cases which actually make it to court, is only a small fraction of the total number of criminal complaints of rape.
These overall figures reveal a scandalous situation. While false allegations of rape are by no means unknown, in this jurisdiction they are extremely rare.
Quite rightly, rape is judged to be the second most serious offence in the criminal calendar, after murder. The maximum sentence, upon conviction, is life imprisonment, though this is extremely rare.
In its defence, the PPS said it prosecuted 76 people for rape last year, which was the highest number in four years. Yet while the PPS points out that there are considerable prosecutorial difficulties in trying rape cases, the low conviction rate means that in reality there is virtual impunity for rapists.
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Nexus NI, which provides sexual abuse counseling here, has rightly voiced concern at the rise in these types of crimes with such a low conviction rate.
The key factor, as pointed out by the Nexus clinical manager, Trevor Curran, is that people can actually feel able to report sexual crimes, and to seek help.
The Gillen Report, which was published last year, provided a first-class blueprint on how to deal with reporting sexual offences and the challenges to make the court proceedings in cases of sexual assault less daunting for complainants.
Sir John Gillen's comprehensive, painstaking and wide-ranging report should be implemented in its key recommendations, and without delay. This is the kind of development which people of both sexes and from all backgrounds would strongly support.
Northern Ireland has many problems, but as matters stand today, the effective impunity for those who carry out brutal sexual assaults on women and girls - and also on men - shames any society with pretensions to civilisation.