Fianna Fáil Justice Spokesperson Jim O’Callaghan TD has urged Government to lend its support to the party’s bill to provide victims of sexual offences access to necessary legal advice and representation.

Deputy O’Callaghan introduced the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Bill 2018 in the Oireachtas earlier this year.

The Bill seeks to afford greater support and protection to victims of alleged offences involving sexual violence, gender based violence or violence in a close relationship and will be will be debated at Second Stage in Dáil Éireann later this evening.

Speaking in advance he said, “Cases involving sexual violence tend to be among the most complex and aggressive there are. It’s quite frightening that the latest data available indicates crimes of a sexual nature are on the rise yet despite these statistics, the fact remains that sexual offences are grossly underreported.

“Concerns have been raised in recent times regarding how trials relating to sexual offences are conducted and the degree of support offered to a complainant(s) during a trial. Victims are all too often intimidated and surprised by the trial process and we recognise that a different, more compassionate approach must be adopted.

“Every victim should feel encouraged and adequately supported by the State to pursue justice. Our legislation is essential and will ensure that victims of a sexual offence or gender based violence are provided with all relevant support and State funded legal advice at the earliest stage of the criminal investigation.

He added, “The lack of legal supports afforded to victims of sexual crimes is an important element of this bill however; there is a deficit too in the number of specialist staff available to provide medical and psychological support to victims.

“At a very minimum, we are calling for the Sexual Assault Treatment Unit in Dublin to be open on a 24 hour basis, 7 days a week. It’s causing even more distress and upset by expecting victims of serious assault to travel some distance to another of the 5 units nationwide when their closest is closed due to staff shortages.

“The trauma of an attack can be compounded by a gruelling criminal justice process for any victim and our country’s law should not act as a deterrent in seeking appropriate justice or support,” concluded Deputy O’Callaghan.