THE JUSTICE Minister of Ireland was yesterday urged to act against lenient sentencing of rape victims after a series of violent sexual assaults and court controversies that have enraged public opinion over the past week.
The minister, Padraig Flynn, reversing government policy, has pledged he will move to allow state appeals against over-lenient sentences when the Dail resumes in October. This follows a public outcry over a judge's decision last week allowing a man who violently raped his teenage girlfriend to walk free from court after sentence was deferred for 12 months.
She collapsed in tears when the ruling was made, screaming repeatedly 'He got away with it, he got away with it'. Renouncing her legal anonymity, the victim, Lavinia Kerwick, from Kilkenny, made an emotional appeal to the minister to order a retrial.
Ms Kerwick, who was 18 at the time of the attack, said she had been unable to walk for three months afterwards. Relatives said it led to her weight falling to six stone (38kg) necessitating force-feeding in hospital. Last January she took a drugs overdose and has renewed her threat to kill herself if no action is taken to jail her attacker.
She said: 'I feel I have been let down by the whole justice system. I should never have reported it to the Garda in the first place.' She says she is afraid to go out because her attacker, William Conry, 19, who pleaded guilty to the hour-long assault, was until last week working on a building site just yards from her home.
In a broadcast interview she said he had raped her several times during the attack after a New Year's Eve disco. She said he even boasted that if she took him to court he would walk free.
Yesterday, several hundred people took part in a silent vigil outside the court in Kilkenny to express anger at the judge's decision. The protest was led by a local councillor and former mayor, Margaret Tynan.
Rape Crisis Centres have warned that the ruling would mean fewer rapes being reported to gardai. One, in Clonmel, which covers the Kilkenny area, said out of 42 alleged rapes reported to it last year only two were later notified to police. The case has prompted calls for retraining of judges.
Public alarm over attacks on women intensified after the weekend gang rape of a 12-year-old girl in the new town of Tallaght, near Dublin. She was pulled from her bicycle as she returned home from a friend's house and raped by three youths after being threatened with a Stanley knife.
Concern has also been raised by other Irish court cases in recent days. These include the conviction of a man accused of raping a mentally retarded woman, and two cases where rape charges were dismissed when women alleging rape felt unable to give evidence.
At yesterday's meeting with Mr Flynn, the delegation representing the Council for the Status of Women, Womens' Aid, the Irish Countrywomen's Association and the Rape Crisis Centre, pressed for consistency in rape sentences, mandatory therapy for sex offenders, more funds for rape crisis centres, and highlighted the lack of research into attacks on women.Reuse content