Anna Lo said: “This is an issue of real public concern in South Belfast. Police figures for South Belfast show that in the 7 months from April to October 2008, 23 rapes have been reported to PSNI. 9 of those reported incidents have been forwarded onto the Public Prosecution Service, 4 people have been charged, 2 incidents have been investigated and deemed as ‘no crime’ and 7 incidents are currently being investigated.
“The PSNI have however stated that South Belfast, in terms of reported sexual assaults, is no worse than anywhere else in Northern Ireland despite the fact that it has a vibrant night time economy. They have also made it clear that is no evidence that there is a ‘University rapist’ lurking in South Belfast. It’s important that we don’t alarm residents unduly and raise disproportionate fear about sexual crime in the area, but it is equally important to strike a balance in disseminating relevant details in order that the public are informed in a responsible and preventative manner.
“We need to examine the attitude towards rape or sexual assault in Northern Ireland. An Amnesty International survey with students in Northern Ireland on violence against women published in September 2008 had some appalling findings. 44% of respondents believed that a woman is totally or partially responsible for being raped or sexually assaulted if she is drunk. This is sickening and shows the culture change needed.
“A visible police presence will deter assaults of this nature. South Belfast residents are anxious that neighbourhood policing has been diminished over the years, with previously 22 officers now reduced to only 5 or 6 for the area. It is therefore important that the PSNI step up policing particularly in the winter months.
“Personal alarms are now freely available in Police stations, the City Church, the SOS bus in Shaftesbury Square, Stranmillis College and other places. It is important that young people, perhaps leaving home for the first time, are well prepared on how to keep themselves safe.”