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Noeline Blackwell: Change needed in laws and public attitudes towards rape

The director of Dublin’s Rape Crisis Centre, Noeline Blackwell says there needs to be a change in legislation and in public attitudes towards rape.

A change in mind set is needed, any sexual activity that is not free and consensual is rape, she told RTE’s Morning Ireland.

This Is Not Consent protestor Stacie Ellen Murphy walking on Grafton Street yesterday. Photo: Cathal Burke / vipireland.com

Ms Blackwell was commenting on calls by Leona O’Callaghan for changes to the system by which rape trials are investigated and conducted in the Republic and a recommendation by retired senior judge Sir John Gillen, that the public should be excluded from rape trials in Northern Ireland.

Ms O’Callaghan had waived her anonymity following the conviction on Monday of Patrick O’Dea when he pleaded guilty on the second day of his trial at the Central Criminal Court to charges of sexual assault and rape on dates in 1994 and 1995.

Speaking on RTE’s Claire Byrne show on Monday night, Ms O’Callaghan said that the system had torn her to pieces. It had taken “four long years”. She called on Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan to provide the resources to shorten the length of time it takes for cases to go through the legal system.

During those four years she had attempted suicide and been hospitalised a number of times, she said. “The current process is not working.”

Leona O'Callaghan. Photo: Press 22

On the same programme Mr Flanagan said it was time for new protocols for lawyers, the traditional “full blooded defence” often using whatever means available “was not acceptable” he said.

The Minister added that not alone was it time for a change in legislation, but also in public thinking. There should be a policy of zero tolerance of rape, he said.

On RTE’s Morning Ireland, Ms Blackwell said the Minister now has an opportunity to make these changes. The legal system needs to understand that when there isn’t free and full consent it is abuse, up to and including rape.

Ms Blackwell paid tribute to Ms O’Callaghan saying how difficult it was to stand up and explain the level of harm that the accused caused to her.

“For all those who are victims of abuse, she explained very powerfully the level of damage and abuse of a child and how hard it is to have that abuse recognised and then prosecuted.”