The number of rape reports received by the police have almost tripled in the past decade, with experts saying the taboo on coming forward is slowly being lifted.
Around 160 cases have been reported to the police over the past decade, with the number increasing from around 10 reports annually to more than 20 in 2015 and 28 last year.
Prior to 2008, the police used a different incident reporting system which grouped together all sexual offences, including violent indecent assault, indecent exposure and defilement of minors.
Victim Support Malta director Roberta Lepré told the Times of Malta that the increase in the number of reported cases could be the result of increased coordination with the Care for Victims of Sexual Assault Service (previously known as SART).
She said her NGO had for the past two years been working in cooperation with the Ministry for the Family and Social Solidarity to run the service.
Besides providing direct support and legal representation to victims of rape and sexual assault, Victim Support Malta also engages in various awareness-raising initiatives to tackle the stigma many victims feel when coming forward. In 2015, the NGO produced a video featuring various prominent politicians and Maltese personalities, debunking “myths and prejudices” concerning sexual assault.
Dr Lepré said the video was aired extensively on national television and promoted on social media. Again, in 2016, the NGO produced another popular video, this time depicting a victim sharing her experience and the support that she had received through the NGO’s services.
“Of course, these videos are only examples of our ongoing awareness campaigns, which also entails our participation in various TV and radio programmes, newspaper and magazine features, and publication and dissemination of flyers and videos, as well as delivering talks and taking part in conferences and seminars,” she said.
Dr Lepre said it was encouraging to see that these efforts were yielding the desired results, and that victims were coming forward.
It was now important to work towards strengthening the relevant services to ensure that once they come forward, victims are treated with dignity and that their rights are upheld throughout the criminal justice process.
Last year, this newspaper reported on an EU study which found that nearly half of Maltese men felt women often exaggerated rape or abuse claims.
Maltese were the most likely Europeans to believe that women made up such allegations.
Meanwhile, court figures show that while the number of reports increased, they were still not matching the number of alleged offenders brought to court. Last year only 10 of the 28 reports resulted in court action.
Asked about this, Dr Lepré said many victims would decide to drop court proceedings, either because of the perceived hassle or because the system was not sensitive enough to victims’ needs.
In 2015, a lawyer pointed out that the judicial system needed to be improved.
In a judgment last August, a 39-year-old man was given a conditional discharge after being found guilty of raping a woman in Buġibba. The story raised a storm on social media, with many feeling the sentence did not reflect the crime or the victim’s ordeal.