Thursday, 16 July 2015

Free Pass For Rape

A man who repeatedly raped and sexually assaulted his girlfriend as she slept has avoided jail time, despite a written omission from him of his crime and a guilty plea submitted in court. Location: Ireland, 2015.

It was with shock and repulsion that I read about this case. It's never pleasant reading about such news; rape, rightly so, remains one of the crimes in our modern society that still shocks and appalls us when we encounter it in one form or another. Take for example a TV show like Game of Thrones; we've become desensitized to countless murders and executions, but every time there's a rape story-line, there's an outcry of horror.

It's fair to say that most sound minded people would concur that sexual violence is a hideous crime and deserves punishment. And yet, here we have a self-proclaimed rapist receiving no jail time (instead, he got a suspended sentence of seven years imprisonment) for acts he committed between 2011 and 2012.

I'm not going to go into the details of the case, the specifics of what he did to his victim. That is widely available for you to find if you so wish to read about it, as I did myself. And as I read, I found myself not only horrified at what this man had subjected his girlfriend to, but I became enraged. Not at him, but at the judge and at our judicial system.

How on earth do we live in a society where somebody admits to a grievous crime and receives no jail time for it? How can someone literally walk away, free to carry on their own life, after destroying the life of another?

And particularly for rape, a crime difficult to prove in the eyes of the law anyway, can somebody who has admitted committing this crime, receive insignificant punishment?

There is a huge issue in regards to crimes against women in Ireland. In 2003, a study by the Rape Crisis Network of Europe revealed Ireland had one of the worst conviction rates of the 21 European States - clocking in at a shameful 1% conviction rate.

10 years later, in 2013, the situation had not improved much. The conviction rate stood at 19%, including those who pleaded guilty. Of those that contested the charges, only 7% were convicted.

Part of this problem lies in the rape culture, victim-blaming society that we unfortunately inhabit. We are making progress, but not quick enough. If you want an example of this, you need look no further than this particular case - as part of the defence, the fact the victim has also previously been a victim of sexual assault as a child was included.

Part of the problem lies in the fact that unless a victim immediately receives medical attention and has a rape kit done in order to collect biological evidence that the crime has occurred, a successful conviction is highly unlikely. In these scenarios, it often comes down to a case of he said/she said with the most common defence being the sex was consensual.

Our government and judicial system have a duty to deal with crime in a satisfactory manner; both in terms of justice for the victim and as a deterrent for other members of society for committing the same crime. Prison does not serve as a rehabilitative space, although rehabilitation should be an associated aim. It's purpose is to punish those who have broken the law by revoking their freedom and removing the possibility of them committing a crime against another member of society.

Rape is a serious violation of a person's human rights. While it is correct that an accused remains innocent until proven guilty, surely when found guilty, there should be a level of punishment equal to the crime committed?

What we all should be asking in light of this recent case is what kind of message does this send to the members of our society? What does it tell people who are currently being assaulted? Who could potentially assault someone? What does it say to you?

And the final question I'll ask is how would you feel if this were your sister, daughter, wife or friend? If you had stood by them as they fought and clawed for their case to be brought to court, to have to go through another ordeal of reliving the case and giving evidence, and then watched as our judicial system failed?

For every person we love, because although rape is primarily committed against women, men are victims too, we need to be outraged. We need to demand better. We need to demand justice.

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