New steps considered to tackle under-reporting of sexual crime

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Sexual offenders and their victims could be brought together outside the courtroom to tackle under-reporting, a former judge leading a review said.

Eight out of 10 alleged sexual crimes are not being divulged to police and the pros and cons of restorative justice are under consideration as part of possible future reforms.

The way the criminal justice system handles sexual crime is under review following a high-profile trial in which rugby players Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding were acquitted of raping the same woman.

The retired appeal court judge leading the review, Sir John Gillen, said Northern Ireland was a “shining” example in its use of restorative justice in other areas involving low-level wrongdoing or that committed by youths.

He added: “The main reason I am looking at it is because 85% of young women and young men, older women and older men, are not coming forward into the criminal justice system.

“We are therefore looking at the possibility of something additional to the criminal justice system for people to be able to come forward and get closure.”

He said restorative justice had been used in the US, Australia and New Zealand.

“It is working in other parts of the world, some better than others, but it is certainly working in other parts of the world.

“We work extremely well here in youth justice and in low-tariff crimes, we are a shining example of how restorative justice works in youth justice and low-tariff crime.

“We are looking at the possibilities, there are pros and cons and we are looking at the possibilities.”

The PSNI and other official agencies have launched a new sexual consent awareness campaign entitled No Grey Zone.

It aims to raise public consciousness of what sexual assault and consent is and covers behaviour from unwanted groping to penetration.

It seeks to equip society, particularly young people, with knowledge and skills to safeguard them.

PSNI detective chief superintendent Paula Hilman said: “Over the past number of years we have seen an increase in the number of sexual crimes being reported and we wanted to develop a campaign to educate young people about sexual consent and send the clear message that there is no grey zone.”

PSNI detective chief superintendent Paula Hilman said it was vital society understood what sexual assault and consent was (Michael McHugh/PA)

The senior officer said a student survey showed just over 4% of those who said they had been sexually assaulted reported it to police.

Half had not told anyone.

Cara Cash Marley, chief executive of the Nexus NI support charity, said: “The No Grey Zone campaign is we hope the start of a movement.

“It is the beginning of a changed conversation for Northern Ireland.”

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