321. Deputy Peadar Tóibín asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the steps he is taking to provide extra supports to victims of sexual offences; the steps he is taking to educate and change the behaviour of perpetrators of these crimes; the funding allocated to support victims and the investigation of sexual offences crimes in each of the past eight years in view of the fifth annual increase in sexual offences in a row in 2019, an increase of 55%; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27661/19]
Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Charles Flanagan): I can assure the Deputy that the Government is committed to addressing sexual violence and in fully supporting and assisting victims, including facilitating and enabling victims to come forward to report these horrific crimes. Key measures taken to support victims include:
- The development of the Second National Strategy on Domestic, Sexual and Gender based Violence 2016-2021 - a live strategy to which actions are added. This is the overall policy framework dealing with prevention, provision of services to victims and holding perpetrators to account
- Changes to legislation arising from the introduction of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017 and the Victims of Crime Act 2017
- The ratification of the Istanbul Convention on preventing and combatting violence against women and domestic violence on 8 March, 2019
- The roll out of Divisional Protective Service Units within An Garda Síochána. These are specialised units tasked with improving services to victims, improving the investigation of sexual violence incidents, and identifying and managing risk
- The review that I initiated of the protections for vulnerable witnesses in the investigation and prosecution of sexual offences, being chaired by Tom O’Malley which is expected to report in Q3 of this year
- A major national awareness campaign on sexual harassment and sexual violence - ‘No Excuses’ - which I launched on 9 May. This is a high impact national media campaign, which aims to increase the awareness of sexual harassment and sexual violence and to bring about changes in societal attitudes and behaviours, with the aim of decreasing and preventing these offences.
A number of measures have also been taken to educate and change the behaviours of perpetrators of sexual crimes. The Irish Prison Service and the Probation Service provide a number of assessment and intervention treatment programmes for people convicted of sexual violence. These include the following:
- The Prison Service Psychology Service deliver a group intervention programme, in conjunction with the Probation Service, known as Better Lives, whereby a convicted sex offender can avail of relevant treatment to address their offending behaviour;
- Therapeutic one- to-one interventions with sex offenders in the prison setting, primarily delivered through the Prison Services’ Psychology Service;
- Probation Service engagement including work on reducing the risk following release and addressing child protection issues;
- Post Release Supervision Orders implemented by the Probation Service where supervision of offenders has been sanctioned by the Court, following release;
- The delivery by the Probation Service, in conjunction with PACE (a community based non-governmental organisation) of the Safer Lives Group Treatment Programme. This sex offender treatment programme runs on an inter-disciplinary, co-facilitated model, which includes psychologists, probation officers and safer lives staff members.
PACE also operates a number of other separate services. The Foothold Floating Support Service provides one to one support for men leaving custody convicted of a sexual offence. The Circles of Support and Accountability (CoSA) provides support to the offender by providing an inner circle of support, usually volunteers from the community, who are in turn surrounded by a professional circle and community.
While Tusla has statutory responsibility for the care and protection of victims of domestic, sexual or gender based violence, and is providing €25.3 million for these services in 2019, my Department provides funding through its Victims of Crime Office to promote and assist the development of support services to victims of crime. Such services continue to provide important information and support to victims of crime, including emotional support, court accompaniment, accompaniment to Garda interviews, accompaniment to sexual assault treatment units, counselling and referral to other services. In this regard, the Victims of Crime Office has allocated a total of €12.5 million since 2011, to provide funding support to victim support services. In addition, Cosc, the National Office for the Prevention of Domestic, Sexual and Gender-Based Violence, has provided funding of €380,000 since 2011 to the Rape Crisis Network Ireland's legal coordination service.
Details of the funding amounts made available for the period in question are set out in the following table.
|Year||Victims of Crime Funding||Cosc Funding|
In relation to the investigation of such crimes, as the Deputy will appreciate, it is the Garda Commissioner who is responsible for carrying on and managing and controlling generally the administration and business of An Garda Síochána and I, as Minister, have no direct role in the matter. I have sought information from the Garda Commissioner in relation to the issues raised by the Deputy. I will write to the Deputy when the information is to hand.
The Deputy may also wish to note that the Government has approved a new national survey approach to the collection of data on the prevalence of sexual violence by the Central Statistics Office in Ireland and work is underway on this project. Finally, while I am concerned at the year on year increases in sexual offences reported by the CSO, I welcome the fact that more and more victims are coming forward to An Garda Síochána. Increased reporting by victims of sexual offences to An Garda Síochána may also be interpreted as an increase in confidence of victims to report. I would continue to encourage anyone who has been a victim of sexual assault to come forward and report the incident to An Garda Síochána.