Many sexual crime victims wrongly ‘believe myths surrounding rape’

Many victims of serious sexual crime in Northern Ireland believed myths surrounding rape, a retired senior judge probing the issue said.

In some cases those attacked can blame themselves and issues like whether a woman’s clothing could be considered provocative have also been raised in past court cases, Sir John Gillen noted.

His preliminary report called for better education surrounding the issue.

He said: “I found it really harrowing, sitting and listening to these complainants. I spent an hour-and-a-half with each of them.

“The saddest thing was that in many cases they bought into the rape myth.”

Often victims felt ashamed and wondered what they could have done differently.

Sir John added: “The refusal to accept that the victim is never ever to blame in any way, any shape or form, is something that not only does the public not seem to fully understand, in some instances, but even the victims, even the complainants.”

He said myths around rape should be robustly challenged.

“We need some radical rethinking of societal attitudes to sexual abuse in the wake of public campaigns.”

Sir John said his report should not be viewed as skewed towards the victim, it also considered the voice of the accused and spoke to many who had been cleared of serious sexual crime.

Severe physical and mental consequences are often suffered by the accused who have been cleared of serious sexual offences and they can face public opprobrium.

The retired judge did not favour changing the law to anonymise the identity of the accused after he or she has been charged in court.

The matter generated more controversy and division of opinion than any other in the Gillen review.

The status quo should be maintained because it brought forward other potential victims in institutional abuse or serial offender cases, the retired judge proposed.

Sir John’s draft report said: “Such additional witnesses can be vital in a genre of crime where it is often a case of one person’s word against another with little further evidence, where currently approximately 83% of complainants are not reporting to the police and where acquittal rates are already very high.”

He said it was difficult to justify making an exception anonymising those accused of serious sexual offences but not murder or unspeakable cruelty to children.