Any cuts to Tusla will affect victims of sex assault and rape

Any cuts to Tusla will affect victims of sex assault and rape.

Irish Examiner opinion piece.
A leaked Tusla (the Child and Family Agency) briefing to a Cabinet subcommittee regarding the Agency being ‘in default of statutory obligations‘ due to a lack of resources, prompted its Chief Executive, Mr. Gordon Jeyes, to make a number of public statements on rte.

Those statements highlighted a serious question about how an agency whose overriding priority is child protection can champion and support adult survivors and services for predominantly women experiencing violence.

What we learnt was that half of all Tusla cuts to date have been made to their community and voluntary sector spending (they control the statutory funding of sexual and domestic violence services and family resource centres). Further Mr. Jeyes stated that the domestic violence and rape crisis sectors will be the targets of further cuts should the government not meet Tusla’s child protection and early intervention funding demands.

But cutting the domestic and sexual violence sector would not gain Tusla the funding it requires to make up its deficits in child protection, estimated by Tusla at €132m over a three year period. The sexual and domestic violence sector, of 60 services nationwide, represents only 3% of the overall Tusla budget at an annual €19m out of €635m.

So why, if it won’t deliver the necessary funds, are sexual violence victims’ services being threatened with these cuts? That is a question we cannot answer.

What we can say is that pitching survivors of sexual violence against child protection is unfair, degrading and heartbreaking. The protection of children from becoming victims is vital. Treating with dignity those survivors of past failures of the state to protect children and responding to their needs is vital. Making survivors and survivors’ organizations argue for one over the other option is unjust. Yet this is precisely what Mr. Jeyes articulated over the weekend.

However, before we rush to judgment we might note that this competition was inevitable when the government set up Tusla. Sexual and domestic violence services, for predominantly adults and predominantly women, were transferred from the HSE to Tusla: the Child and Family Agency.

It was clear from the start that child protection would be the biggest ‘driver’ within the Agency and that the Agency was underfunded. Yet no safeguards, such as ring-fencing the funding of vulnerable organizations at the furthest edges of the Agency’s priorities, were put in place. That adult survivors’ dignity and needs would inevitably be threatened in the interest of preventing children today becoming the survivors of tomorrow, was therefore tragically predictable.

Sexual violence remains, despite 40 years of the feminist movement and considerable advances, an issue shrouded in silences. We estimate 80% of survivors do not choose to engage with the state. It is all too easy to say those silences exist because of regressive cultural attitudes and survivor ‘failings’. Often overlooked is the institutional and structural failings and discriminations that sets the context for survivors’ choices and shape a response from the State that continues to fall woefully short.

The only viable path towards the transformation needed to end sexual violence involves treating survivors with dignity and respect. Survivors, whether adults or children, are whole human beings with rights undiminished by the choice a perpetrator made to target them for a crime. Yet all too often survivors suffer from limitations, fears and consequences that do impinge on their freedoms, their mental health and their choices.

Services for survivors of sexual violence are not luxury extras, indeed the area needs increased investment. The EU Victims’ Directive comes into force on the 16th of November bringing a wide range of legal obligations, including providing free services to victims (article 8(3)). Despite government rhetoric Tusla will struggle to honour these obligations.

It must now be clear to government that an agency, with a remit in child and family welfare which is operating in a funding crisis cannot champion adult survivors of sexual violence. Tusla Director, Gordon Jeyes has as good as said as much and we welcome his honesty.

It is imperative that the Government actively and critically challenges the State’s institutional and structural discrimination against survivors of sexual violence. A Minister making that commitment to leadership needs the input and analysis of experts and specialists without whose engagement the State, as demonstrated, will sleepwalk its way into colluding with the diminishing of a survivor’s rights. Unfortunately, unless things change, that writing is already on the wall.

Cliona Saidlear, PhD, RCNI Strategic and Programme Executive

The Irish Examiner, 13/10/2015