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Question

370. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the steps she will take to address the low rates of reporting of sexual violence and abuse; and her views that this is connected with the failure of An Garda Síochána to take these matters seriously. [12674/15]

371. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if she will initiate a scheme whereby those reporting cases of sexual violence or sexual abuse will be provided legal and other assistance when they report these incidents to the Garda Síochána, from the time of the complaint up to the court hearing, in order to overcome the deficit which presently exists whereby complaints are often not taken on board seriously enough or pursued diligently enough. [12681/15]

Answer

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): I propose to take Questions Nos. 370 and 371 together.
The prevention of domestic and sexual violence and the increase in reporting has been a fundamental aim of many actions in the National Strategy for the Prevention of Domestic, Sexual and Gender Based Violence 2010-2014. One of the three headline indicators for the Strategy is "An increase in the level of disclosure and reporting, as a result of improved opportunities for disclosure and confidence in the response system". This work will continue (with the support and advice of the Non-Governmental Organisations) under the next National Strategy for the Prevention of Domestic, Sexual and Gender based-Violence currently being developed by Cosc, the National Office for the Prevention of Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based Violence, which is an executive office of my Department.
In addition, I am giving priority to the implementation of the EU Victims Directive.
The Garda Síochána Policy on the Investigation of Sexual Crime, Crimes against Children and Child Welfare includes specific directions in relation to the referral of victims of crime to "relevant services in the area, both statutory and voluntary, which may be of assistance to her/him."
The policy specifically directs that in all cases of sexual crime, the investigating member will provide the victim with a copy of the relevant sexual crime information literature and make the complainant aware of the relevant services in the area. The policy lists an extensive range of services to be considered, including - Rape Crisis Centre; Crime Victim’s Helpline; Local Women’s Support Groups; Family Law Courts; the Legal Aid Board; and any other agency which may be of assistance. The policy outlines that where literacy issues may arise, information should be explained verbally and where language is an issue, the information should be provided in a language which the victim can understand or interpreted to the victim.
The policing priorities for An Garda Síochána for 2015 include work to prevent domestic, sexual and gender-based violence and to effectively tackle such violence when it occurs with a view to ensuring timely responses. Support for victims of crime is also a priority in the Policing Plan for 2015. An Garda Síochána has also taken important steps to follow through on the Garda Inspectorate’s recent recommendations regarding the investigation of crime with the establishment of an Implementation Steering Group to focus on the implementation of the short, medium and long-term recommendations in the Report. The Commissioner has established a new Child Protection, Domestic Violence and Human Exploitation Unit under the direction of a Chief Superintendent in the National Support Services of An Garda Síochána. I welcome in particularly the fact that Garda Victim Services Offices have now been established in each Division.
I can also inform the Deputy that the Legal Aid Board provides a legal advice service free of charge to complainants in prosecutions for certain rape and sexual assault cases.
A person seeking this service is not required to undergo a means test or to pay a financial contribution. The accused must have been charged with the offence before the service may be provided. The service is provided by solicitors in the Board’s law centre network. Persons who seek this service will be provided with advice on procedures at pre-trial stage and depending on the case occasionally at the trial itself.
The Legal Aid Board also provides a legal aid service in certain rape and sexual assault cases where the complainant’s prior sexual history has been raised by the defence in the course of the trial.
A person who seeks to avail of this service does not have to undergo the means test, the merits test or to pay a financial contribution. The Board will appoint a solicitor and a barrister to represent the complainant when the issue of previous sexual history is being raised.