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Dramatic fall in reporting of statutory rape cases
Examiner 22/07/2006

by Mary Regan

65% drop since chage in rape laws, warns Barnardos There has been a dramatic fall-off in the number of young people reporting sex crime since new statutory rape laws were introduced, the child protection charity Barnardos warned last night.

Figures released by the Dept of Justice show the number of statutory rape cases reported to the gardai since the change in law has fallen by 65%. In the first 3 months of this year there were 26 reported cases. In the second three months there were just nine cases reported. In May the Supreme court ruled that the statutory rape law introduced in 1935 was unconstitutional because it stated it was automatically a crime for a man to have sex with a girl under the age of 15.

The court said the law did not give the accused the defence of making an honest mistake about the victims age. Emergency legislation was passed a week later to plug the loophole in the law. Justice Minister Michael McDowell warned this new law could mean victims of rape would have to take the witness stand to prove the accused knew their age. The drop from nine cases of statutory rape reported a month to three cases shows that many young people are slow to come forward.

Barnardos director of advocacy Nora Gibbons said. "The number of reported cases of unlawful carnal knowledge more than halfed. It would be a concern that parents might choose not to put their children through what will amount to an added ordeal if they believe they will not receive the protection of our courts and constitution. "There is no doubt that there is a pressing need in the aftermath of the Supreme court ruling as recognised by the Ombudsman for Children to initiate a comprehensive review of child protection policy, practice and procedure", added Ms Gibbons.

Barnardos, with other childrens groups and the Ombudsman for children is calling for a referendum to ensure children are viewed as individual rights holders under the Constitution. The Oireachtas Committee on Child Protection which sat for the first time last Thurs, is investgating whether a change in the Constitution is required to restore childrens protection. Such a change would require the approval of the electorate in a referendum.