Rape victims are discredited during court proceedings with their own therapy notes


Rape victims are discredited with their own counseling notes during court proceedings but feel pressured to turn over personal medical records, an Oireachtas committee has heard.

Oeline Blackwell, executive director of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, said that over the past 30 or 40 years the tactic of using a victim’s counseling notes against them has “crept in” in Irish courts. She said the “tool” had only ever been used in sex crimes trials.

“Often medical records are brought to court. They are only used in sexual offense proceedings to discredit a witness for the prosecution. That’s the only time they’ll ever be used,” Ms. Blackwell told TDs and Senators.

“It crept in over 30 or 40 years as an additional tool to discredit witnesses, mostly women in sex crimes trials. That is its sole purpose.”

The head of the DRCC said the tactic was “deeply traumatic” and could interfere with a victim’s healing process.

A 2017 law was intended to set out the circumstances in which a court should allow the use of an individual’s counseling notes as evidence, and also give prosecutors the right to object to the use of their notes in a case.

Ms Blackwell said the difficulty with this law is that it wrongly assumes that the matter will be discussed at the beginning of a trial. She said the law hasn’t really been tested because “the deal is done before the prosecution decision is even made.”

“As many survivors have said…they are being asked to make a decision about the publication of their advisory notes by the Gardaí, the investigating Gardaí, or the DPP, who need to know before a court proceeding whether those notes might contradict in any way, or contain any libel.” or express doubts about the statement made by the witness to the Gardaí,” Ms Blackwell said.

“It’s a discrediting method, and it’s also an absolute ignorance of the therapy process, the need for healing, and the impact of trauma on people’s memory and recognition.”

Sorcha Clarke, a Sinn Féin TD, asked Ms Blackwell if victims feared her decision not to release her counseling materials would create a “negative perception”.

“The real risk the person is taking is that the case won’t go ahead because investigators will say we don’t have access to the notes, so we don’t have the full story. So that’s the real risk they’re taking by not turning in their notes, and that’s the pressure they’re feeling,” Ms Blackwell said.

The Oireachtas Committee on Gender Equality also heard that at one point last year, 1,000 sexual abuse survivors were on a counseling waiting list. Cliona Sadlier, chief executive of Rape Crisis Network Ireland, said a mapping exercise by her organization in mid-2021 had revealed long waits for advice at rape crisis centres. Rape victims are discredited during court proceedings with their own therapy notes

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