Victims of sexual crime too often feel alone and unsupported.
After suffering the most appalling abuse and violence, many victims feel they cannot come forward and report what happened to them.
Sometimes this can be because of a fear they won’t be believed, or a fear of how the crime will be investigated. Many fear how they will be treated in court: how they could be traumatised again as they seek justice.
I want to remove that fear, support victims every step of the way and create a system centred around them. I want them to know they are not alone and we are here to help them seek the justice they deserve.
Victims will be treated with dignity, respect, care and understanding and perpetrators will know their crimes will be reported, investigated and prosecuted.
Supporting A Victim’s Journey: A Plan to Help Victims and Vulnerable Witnesses in Sexual Violence Cases details how I, as Minister for Justice, will drive reforms which will reduce sexual violence and ensure our system works for those who need it.
There is wider work to be done in reducing the number of sexual crimes, too.
We will raise awareness, through public education campaigns, on consent and victims’ rights. This will involve central government, the Health Service Executive, An Garda Síochána and others.
Tom O’Malley deserves our thanks for his thorough Review of Protections for Vulnerable Witnesses In the Investigation and Prosecution of Sexual Offences. Supporting a Victim’s Journey takes forward the recommendations in his report with determination.
But this report is not the final say on how better we can support victims. Supporting A Victim’s Journey is a living document and I will establish a consultative body to ensure organisations and groups working with victims continue to have an input into how we will implement change.
We are already making progress. As of last month, every Garda Division in the country now has a Divisional Protective Services Unit, with specially trained officers now available nationwide when victims of domestic and sexual violence present to Gardaí.
I was particularly pleased to have secured €2.3 million in the recent Budget to fund the reforms in Supporting A Victim’s Journey.
And I am also working with Minister for Children, Disability, Equality and Integration Roderic O’Gorman on an audit of how responsibility for domestic, sexual and gender based violence is segmented across government and State agencies.
This will lead to a strong and effective government infrastructure to help tackle these awful crimes.
We are meeting our commitment in the Programme for Government to tackle the epidemic of domestic, sexual and gender based violence. Supporting a Victim’s Journey is key part of that commitment.
Supporting a Victim's Journey - A plan to help victims and vulnerable witnesses in sexual violence cases
On 7 September 2018, the then Minister for Justice and Equality, Charlie Flanagan, published Terms of Reference for the review of the investigation and prosecution of sexual offences. The Minister also announced that Tom O’Malley BL would chair the working group tasked with undertaking the review. This Review was prompted by widely shared concerns about the experiences of vulnerable witnesses in criminal proceedings for sexual offences. In particular, there was unease in the wake of a trial in Belfast Crown Court in 2018, which has come to be known as the ‘Belfast rugby rape trial’. The then Minister requested the Review to examine key aspects of the criminal justice process as it relates to vulnerable witnesses, and to identify ways in which the treatment of such witnesses might be improved.
The review was published on 6 August 2020 and contains 52 actions with four overarching recommendations:
At the publication of the O’Malley Review, Minister McEntee indicated that the implementation plan, to be brought to government within weeks, include timelines for delivery.
An implementation group was created to consider the recommendations contained in the review and the necessary steps required to effectuate their implementation. The group comprised representatives from: the Department of Justice, the Legal Aid Board, the Department of Education, an Garda Síochána, the Department of Children, Disability, Equality and Integration, the Department of Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Courts Service, the Judicial Council, the Probation Service and the Department of Health.
Following publication of the Implementation Plan, the Minister will convene and chair an Implementation Oversight Group of all relevant Departments and agencies to drive implementation of the agreed actions. This will include putting arrangements in place for regular consultations with the NGO sector in that process. The Review report and the Implementation Plan 'Supporting a Victim's Journey: A plan to help victims and vulnerable witnesses in sexual violence cases' are available below.