In fact, as Vicki Conway writes on RightsNI.org,
it is 3 reported rapes every 2 days - as in 6 new cases by this Friday.
In 2009/10 there 440 reported cases (PSNI statistics) - so the numbers
are going up.
And the numbers are already extraordinarily high, particularly when compared to the Republic Ireland - which has a much higher population - where the number of reported rapes in 2010 was 279.
So why the high numbers? It's been suggested that this is due to a higher confidence in reporting rapes. However, as Vicki Conway pointed out, the detection rate for sexual offenses in 2010/11 was only 13.5% - with conviction rates much lower.
What makes these figures even more difficult to comprehend is that the under-reporting of sexual assault - including rape - is well-documented. There are a lot of factors that would compel a woman (or a man) not to report a rape, including fear of the offender, shame, and a belief that nothing would be done. Thus, it is likely that rape actually occurs more than we know about in Northern Ireland - and that is incredibly worrying.
So why are rape levels so high? Vicki Conway suggests that part of the problem is deeply ingrained attitudes about gender, using a 2008 Amnesty International survey of university students as an example:
- 46% of students thought that a women who had been raped was partially or totally to blame if she had been acting flirtatiously;
- 44% felt the same way if the woman was drunk;
- 30% if she was wearing sexy or revealing clothing;
- 10% felt that it was acceptable for a man to hit his girlfriend or partner if she had flirted with another man;
- 9% thought it acceptable to hit her if she nagged.
figures are overwhelming, and display a very troubling attitude towards
women, and attaches so much of the blame for unwanted sexual contact to
the victim. Why?
Over the years, a lot of resources have been poured into dealing with both causes and symptoms of the 'Troubles' - issues like sectarianism, rioting, unemployment, shared history and single identity and heritage work - all of which are important, of course. But it seems that in the rush to deal with the most visible traumas of 30 years of war, the trauma women endured - and are still enduring - has become less and less visible.
When gender issues become invisible in civil society in this way, our institutions reflect this. For example, the PSNI recently conducted a consultation around their Equality, Diversity and Good Relations Strategy, which is supposed to cover issues like gender, race and sectarianism. One of the proposals was that the new strategy would encompass 4 previously separate, bespoke strategies:
• Disability Action Plan
• Gender Action Plan
• Section 75 Equality Scheme
• Shared Future Strategy
I would argue that the melting of 4 strategies into one will never produce the protection needed by vulnerable groups, and will instead gloss over the particular issues they face.
We need the PSNI to lead the way in terms of the support and protection offered to women, particularly if they find themselves a victim of sexual assault. Their own statistics prove this.
as Vicki Conway also argues, with high levels of rape and a lack of
understanding of the nature of violence against women, we need a strong
and well-funded Rape Crisis Centre to raise the profile of this issue
and to help educate the public.. Ours - the Rape Crisis and Sexual Abuse Centre for Northern Ireland - is chronically under-funded.
I know I have quoted her quite a bit, but Vicki Conway puts it best when she wrote: "It has been said before that how rape is discussed, challenged and investigated in Northern Ireland needs a radical overhaul. Apparently it needs to be said again."