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Sex crime figures only part of the story

AT FIRST glance it is disturbing that reports of sex crimes to the PSNI have increased according to the latest annual figures. Rape complaints have gone up by 8 per cent, increasing in actual figures by 71.
The police recorded 98,873 offences of all types, an increase of 1,053, equating to one per cent. However, counselling charity Nexus which believes that while any instance of these crimes is unacceptable that the increase in reporting sexual offences is to be welcomed.
This is because Nexus believes that significant numbers of victims do not report alleged attacks because they cannot face the prospect of a police inquiry and subsequent court proceedings. Indeed the organisation reports that its workload of counselling victims has risen by something approaching 50 per cent.
It is difficult, perhaps even dangerous, to interpret these apparently conflicting figures in a particular way. It is possible to draw opposing conclusions from them.
The most hopeful interpretation is that instances of sexual attacks are not increasing but that victims are coming forward in more cases to pursue alleged offenders through the courts.
The recent high-profile trial of several Ulster rugby stars who were cleared of rape has illustrated some of the problems surrounding such court proceedings and given a clue to why those who have suffered at the hands of alleged attackers are often reluctant to go to the authorities.
Perhaps the most difficult of these is anonymity, especially in today’s world where social media releases and spreads information which would not be allowed in mainstream press outlets. Indeed an individual is facing legal action over claims that he revealed the identity of the complainant in that particular case.
A review of the rules surrounding trials for sexual offences is being held in the aftermath of that trial, with one of the key areas under examination being identification.
Hopefully that review will help complainants to have confidence in the legal system and will encourage an even higher percentage of those who believe they have been made victims to come forward.
It is often argued that those who have suffered a sexual assault feel they are being victimised a second time because of the legal system.
Society must hope that we see an improvement in the way these cases are handled and that organisations such as Nexus begin to see a reduction in their workload, not because fewer victims are coming forward but rather, because there are fewer victims.

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