Words: Ellen Kenny
The new law will change the conditions under which a person can be found guilty of rape or sexual assault.
Minister for Justice Helen McEntee is set to get Cabinet approval on changes to laws surrounding consent and sexual assault.
The new reforms to the Sexual Offences and Human Trafficking Bill will strengthen the parameters of “consent, belief and knowledge” in rape trials. It would change the current laws where the Courts can find a person not guilty of rape if they claim they believed they had received consent from the victim.
Currently, Irish rape law states that a person commits rape when “he has unlawful sexual intercourse with a woman who at the time of the intercourse does not consent to it”, or if “he is reckless as to whether she does or does not consent to it”.
The Dublin Rape Crisis Centre has previously said the “honest belief” defence for persons accused of rape is “not acceptable” and puts individual rape victims and all of society at risk.
The new proposals state that the defence that a person was consenting must be “objectively reasonable”. This means that the defence must present the steps an accused took to check whether or not the victim consented.
The bill states that the jury must also examine the accused’s decision-making capacity. The law would remove self-intoxication as a defence in a rape trial. Therefore, the accused could not argue that they did not have the capacity to understand whether the victim consented.
The bill also allows complete anonymity for victims of any sexual assault cases, not just rape. An accused person found not guilty of assault will be granted anonymity. Anyone found guilty would be identified unless it lead to the identification of the victim.
The current law will also be changed to ensure social media is covered and ensures that victim’s anonymity is protected. The public will be excluded from attending any sexual assault trials.
The Minister for Justice has proposed these changes following the launch of her ‘Zero Tolerance’ strategy. This strategy will combat domestic, sexual and gender-based violence.
Chief Executive of Women’s Aid Sarah Benson welcomed the proposed changes being brought before Cabinet.
“Anything that can redress the balance, that can make the victims’ experience in this journey more balanced, is something to be welcomed.”
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