Thursday, 25 November 2021
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
An Garda Síochána
121. To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality her views in relation to the level and the trend in the detection rate for sexual offences in Ireland; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57747/21]
The Government and I, as the Minister for Justice, are committed to tackling sexual violence and sexual crime in all its forms. I wish to ensure, most importantly, that victims feel empowered to come forward to report sexual crimes and that when they do, they are fully supported in every step of the process and that their interaction with our justice system is as supportive as possible. I urge all victims of sexual crime, regardless of how it happened, to come forward and I reassure them that they will be treated respectfully and professionally. Sometimes, unfortunately, especially in a domestic setting, people feel that they cannot come forward. Separate to detection rates in general, then, the coming forward is the really difficult part for victims. Therefore, I urge everyone finding themselves in that situation to come forward.
The detection of and response to any criminal activity is an operational matter for the Garda Commissioner. I have been informed, however, that it is a function of the sexual crime management unit, SCMU, which is part of the Garda National Protective Services Bureau, GNPSB, to examine incidents to identify factors leading to the withdrawal of complaints of rape by victims of such crimes.
In addressing the issue of chronically low detection rates, and they are very low, unfortunately, An Garda Síochána has implemented several initiatives to ensure that this cohort of extremely vulnerable victims receives the best possible service when they make contact. This includes: the completion of the roll-out of the national divisional protective services units, DPSUs, which are units that provide specialist, expert and sensitive assistance from members of An Garda Síochána; the establishment of the child sexual abuse report line, CSAR, 1800 555 222, which is overseen by the sexual crime management unit; and an increase in the number of members of the force at the ranks of garda and sergeant who are trained in the use of enhanced cognitive interviewing, which has been found to be less traumatic than the traditional method and more effective at capturing evidence. That work is under way within An Garda Síochána.
From my perspective, the Supporting a Victim’s Journey policy is crucial if we are going to encourage more victims to come forward. If people know that the criminal justice system will listen to and support them, treat them with respect throughout the process and that at the end of the process, those responsible will be punished, that will make people more likely to come forward.
I thank the Minister for her reply. What she said about the child sexual abuse report line is important. I ask her to restate the telephone number when she has the opportunity. I ask that because I am thinking in particular of a couple who were in touch with me, and with the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, when she held this portfolio for a time. Their complaint was that they had realised that a child had suffered sexual abuse, but that they did not know where to turn. They said as well that the system was well placed to support the alleged perpetrator but, as parents, they did not know what hospital to go to or where to go for help. Therefore, it is important to have a dedicated telephone report line that can be called, and that is easily accessible, easily found on Google and functions as a single port of call to provide all these elements of advice.
The detection rates in this area are concerning. The Minister will be aware that they hover between 10% and 20% each year. The point made by the Minister about the withdrawal of complaints is important, because that has a big effect on the Garda being able to issue a caution, a summons or anything else, or to progress a case. This is about supporting victims right through the process and at every stage of it.
While initial detection rates, as the Deputy rightly said, hover between 10% and 12%, they then potentially increase to 20% because the criminal justice process is lengthy and it often takes time for those statistics to adjust. Even if the rate reaches 20%, however, that is still far too low and not enough. What is particularly worrying, and I visited several divisional protective service units recently, is that the DPSUs have found that there has been a significant increase in historical cases coming forward. People feel now, perhaps, that they have somewhere to go, whereas before they did not because they might not have felt comfortable going to Garda stations.
There has also been a significant increase in the prevalence of images of child abuse images and of child abuse in general, and that is why this specific child sexual abuse report line has been established. The telephone number, again, is 1800 555 222. All these options are there and available to enable people to come forward to make their complaints and to ensure that they will see justice provided for what they have gone through. The Supporting a Victim’s Journey policy recognises that the first port of call and the first point of contact is often the most important. Therefore, we have updated our website and the victims' charter to ensure that when people log in, no matter where they are in the country, they will have a clear line of sight of who to go to and where and of what supports are available. That is key.
I return to the child sexual abuse report line, because the disparity in power is so great between the parents of a young child and an alleged perpetrator. I refer to the example of a well-documented case, that has concluded and that was in the papers over time. The initial hours in this regard are crucial. I refer to being sent to the right hospital, the child being interviewed in the correct way at an early stage and receiving the right supports. That is what will make the difference, potentially, in some cases, in a generalised way, between a conviction being possible and not. The collection of evidence, in a generalised way, in all cases is so important. I urge the Minister, if she has not already had the opportunity, although I am sure she has, to ensure that this child sexual abuse report line leads to this type of one-stop-shop for imagining being a parent in that situation. The supports required by a parent in such an exceptionally difficult situation must be linked together, from Tusla through to the health system and to An Garda Síochána, to make life as easy as possible.
What has become increasingly clear to me following the publication of the O'Malley report last year and my engagement with victims and with the criminal justice system is that it is not child friendly and is not an encouraging, welcoming or warm place for a family or for children to come forward to. Therefore, everything required must be done to change that situation, including, for example, ensuring that specialist interview suites are available as close as possible to where people live, so that they do not have to travel for hours with a child to a different and new environment. It is also important to ensure that when people are going through the criminal justice system that they are supported. Particularly important in that regard is the development of intermediaries and specifically-trained experts who can support children and other vulnerable people as they go through the criminal justice system. That is a key priority in the Supporting A Victim's Journey policy. A specialist educational programme is being developed in the University of Limerick, UL, which will train such intermediaries, because we have a massive deficit in that overall number. In addition, it is important to ensure that our Judiciary, legal teams and members of the Garda are trained in the best way possible to support and to work with young children as they go through what is such a traumatic time. There is much work to do, but we are making a great deal of progress.