There has been a call for greater resources to be dedicated to services for rape victims and sexual violence victims throughout the legal process.
The call comes as the Law Reform Commission published a paper last week examining a range of reform options in relation to consent.
As it stands, the current law under Section 2 of the Criminal Law (Rape) Act 1981 states that “a man commits rape if he has unlawful sexual intercourse with a woman who at the time of the intercourse does not consent to it, and at the time he knows that she does not consent to the intercourse or he is reckless as to whether she does or does not consent to it”.
The Law Reform Commissions paper, compiled in response to a request from the Attorney General, examines whether the accused’s belief in consent should be objectively reasonable, or whether the accused should be made to take steps to confirm that the woman is consenting.
Under the proposed reforms, a new crime of ‘gross negligence rape’ would be introduced, which would come with a lesser sentence.
Equality spokesperson for Labour, Cllr Deirdre Kingston, has said that if there is to be a review of the law, that “we should be working to make justice more accessible to victims”.
Cllr Kingston said: “If a woman in Ireland is raped, she has to be prepared for indignities, such as having the clothes she was wearing that night to be shown in court or being asked why she had taken a drink.
“Yet now, the Law Commission is reviewing a law which seeks to create space for juries to have understanding for the thinking of a rapist.
“This focus on perpetrators, rather than looking into the needs of victims in legal cases so that their dignity can be respected and justice found for them, highlights the need for a shift in focus on this issue.
“Whether a rapist has an ’honest’ belief they had consent does not change the fact their victims did not consent.
“Ultimately, we are spending more time trying to find space to achieve an understanding of the intention of a rapist, rather than on finding pathways to justice and support structures for victims.
“At this point, given the extremely low rates of prosecution for rape in Ireland, it is time to take a victim-based approach to our laws and legal system. We need to facilitate more survivors of rape seeking and obtaining justice, and, crucially, make them feel supported in doing so,” she said.
In response to the Commission’s paper, the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre have said that the “honest belief” defence is “not acceptable”.
The centre also said that these kinds of “ancient anomalies in the law” need to be solved for the benefit of not just the victims, but to make it clearer for everyone, with the centre saying explicitly that “if there is not consent, it’s rape”.
The public are asked to submit their feedback on the matter to the Law Reform Commission via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org before October 26.