re-traumatising | 

Senator Doherty says character references should not be given to sex offenders

"If you’re a rapist, you’re a rapist"

Regina Doherty

Clodagh Meaney

Senator Regina Doherty has said that character references should not be given to sex offenders in court.

The Leader of the Seanad said that the process can be re-traumatising for victims of violent or sexual crimes.

“Currently the practice is, where a perpetrator has been found guilty of a sexual or violent crime, they are allowed, under the court system, bring forward referees or information as to their good character in mitigation of the sentence the judge is going to hand down for the offence,” she told Newstalk Breakfast.

“We know from talking to women that this has re-traumatising effect on them because they are powerless and usually intimidated in a court setting by troops of people coming in back-slapping and telling you how wonderful a lad or great footballer he was.”

“I knew his parents you know; he was in the scouts – a load of information toward a person’s character but nothing in relation to the offence or the crime they have committed,” she said.

However, she had admitted that legal sources have told her “judges don’t really take it into account anyway”.

“I wanted to do away with character references altogether but apparently that is unconstitutional as we are allowed to bring forward evidence in mitigation,” she explained.

“So, if we are, then what I am absolutely sure about is number one, we shouldn’t re-traumatise our victims and number two, the evidence should be given under oath and therefore questionable.”

“If you’re a rapist, you’re a rapist,” she said, explaining that she does not see the relevance of a person’s “previous good character” when it comes to a sexually violent crime.

“Obviously, the court system allows mitigation but I’m absolutely sure that we are not going to re-traumatise victims.”

“I am going to re-empower them during that part of the process in trial, and allow them to question the veracity of the information that is being given in mitigation for the rapist or the violent person.”

Doherty added that she hopes a new bill that would require character references to testify under oath would deter them from coming forward to do so.

“I just hope this will allow women to be re-empowered at that part of the trial – particularly when a person has been found guilty,” she said.

“No woman should have to be re-traumatised again having gone through the criminal justice system.”

Seantor Doherty also said that bill is just one element of an ongoing push to make the court system less traumatising for victims of sexual and violent crimes.

“The amount of women who have contacted me to tell me they were sexually assaulted, raped or otherwise, and didn’t ever report it to the Guards because they all have this impression that you are re-traumatised.”

“You are not actually considered a defendant,” she said.

“A woman, a victim of a violent crime, in a lot of cases is actually put on trial themselves so we are deterred against going through the system because we don’t feel we get a fair chance.”

It comes as a man convicted of sexual assault had 23 character references presented to the courts in January.

41-year-old Vincent Williams with an address of Mountain Park, Tallaght, was convicted on five counts of sexual assault at his home in 2012 and 2016.

References branded the father of five, who assaulted three teenage girls, as "dedicated, honest and trustworthy."

He was handed down a four and a half year jail term, with one year suspended.

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