RCNI call on Government Scoping Group on Sexual Violence Data to deliver recommendations under three guiding principles

RCNI recommend three core principals to underline all scoping group recommendations:

  1. Sustainability
    The scoping group should strive for recommendations that put in place measures and frameworks that are repeatable, embedded and supported into the future.
  2. Specialist
    The Scoping group recommendations should keep to the fore that sexual violence is a cultural and systemic phenomenon that often resists generic measurements and methodologies . Sexual violence data infrastructure must be consciously specialist in order to measure sexual violence accurately.
  3. Comprehensiveness
    The scoping group recommendations should address sexual violence as a whole and meet the international obligation of making all data available for policy formation in the most optimum manner rather than become confined to problem solving short term ‘as is’ matters.

5th January 2018

Calling out those calling out survivors

This opinion piece was published in the Irish Independent on the 16th of November 2017

We have experienced an extraordinary month of public disclosures about sexual harassment and assaults. What should happen now?

Suggestions range across questions such as, do we need to hear more from survivors of harassment in other institutions and not just the Gate Theatre and the Dáil for example? Do we need inquiries to hear survivors’ stories and should they be run by institutions or somehow independent? Who should hear these stories? Do we need to hear more from the men who are harassed?

In the face of stories from survivors, we say we want to hear more. Why? Have the stories already told not shown us how the powerful and entitled both used and were shielded by that power and how we were complicit, duped or turned a blind eye?

Those insights demand significant and painful work from us, this will include honest reflection on ourselves, our culture, our institutions and our certainties. Instead, responding to hearing survivor’s stories all too often we demand more survivors’ stories.

That is not a response – it is a delay tactic.

In rape crisis we are trained in listening because, despite the myths, we Irish are terrible listeners. We hear and see what we expect to hear and see, and that is often what is comfortable for us and not what we are being told. Survivor’s stories should make us uncomfortable, not just at the crimes of the perpetrators, but because of what they reveal about ourselves and our society.

Last week two amazing women, Amy Barrett and Melissa O’Keeffe, waived their anonymity and spoke about their father’s conviction for the years of abuse he perpetrated against them. What they led with in their statement was that it was not about the sentence for them, it was about his admission of wrongdoing, ensuring the protection of other children and closure.

They spoke about it being reported to the HSE in 1999, indeed one of the sisters had made a statement to the Guards much earlier when she was just a 16 year old child, only to withdraw it when she came under pressure from her family. The sisters, as part of their statement said that the HSE ‘could have done more’ back then and the case ‘petered out’.

In 2014 they had again reported their father and committed themselves to going through the criminal justice system and all that that demands of survivors and then last week they waived their anonymity so he could be named and they could tell us what happened in their case. We owe them a tremendous debt but it should not have been their burden.

Two decades since it was first reported these sisters spoke about finally have the peace of mind that their father cannot abuse other children. One of the sisters spoke of how she was finally free of the feeling of guilt and anxiety for other children’s safety; a guilt she knew did not belong to her but she had carried nonetheless.

The media reported their words giving them the voice they had been denied decades earlier. Their words were powerful, informative and insightful. But apart from reporting their words, what did the media do?

Did journalists ring the HSE or Tusla or question the process with the Guards? If policies and procedures were followed, does the Minister know if the current system is sufficient and effective? If a 16-year-old child makes such a statement to the guards today will we have to wait until 2040 before we can say that they and other children are safe from the named abuser? How many journalists asked searching questions about what happened in the two decades between first disclosures and the conviction? Few.

Instead, in a familiar rehash of a truism, many headlines read that the sisters had waived there anonymity in order to call on more survivors to come forward, or more strongly, urging them to report. These headlines presumably deriving from the sisters’ supportive statements such as that, it did not matter how long it took a victim to come forward – it was never too late. Survivors often do find it helpful to hear other survivors speak out, perhaps particularly when that is not a step they feel they can safely make themselves.

But the lesson, the media told us, was not that we needed to demand better from society and the responsible institutions when disclosures are made, but that we needed more survivors to come forward.

Survivors deserve a response that lifts the unjust burden from their shoulders; that carries the questions and lessons forward to challenge power. Otherwise survivors are left holding our burden. In this moment we must become better listeners. We have a responsibility to act when survivors speak their truth.

Clíona Saidléar, PhD, Executive Director, Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RCNI)

RCNI regret to announce that no RCNI National Rape Crisis Statistics will be available for 2016

The Rape Crisis Network of Ireland (RCNI) has announced, today (19.10.17), that it will not be publishing statistics on the experience of survivors of sexual violence relating to 2016.

The decision was made on foot of significant cuts to RCNI’s funding, which have resulted in a diminution of the network’s capacity to safely analyse and publish data on sexual violence.

Since 2005, RCNI has produced national statistics recording the collective experiences of up to 93% of the survivors of sexual violence that use Rape Crisis Centres (RCCs) around the country.

This powerful tool has been supporting survivors to becoming agents of change as they form part of an evidence base that has transformed policy and practice.

Clíona Saidléar, RCNI Executive Director said: “We have a duty to tell survivors’ stories safely, truthfully and accurately. This is our commitment to honouring survivors’ rights and experiences. We have achieved this integrity, credibility and accuracy for a decade.

“The removal of 70% of RCNI funding in 2015 risked dismantling the RCNI supported RCC database infrastructure, which delivered this gold standard system; a system which continues to be promoted as best practice by the official European body, EIGE, to all other EU countries.

“The funding cut has left a gap which we can no longer fund out of reserves and thus, the 2016 data is not of a standard that we feel would be ethical or safe to analyse and release collectively. This is why we have taken the decision not to process or publish 2016 data, as inaccurate data undermines both survivors and our work.

“In addition, we are concerned that the greatly weakened data collection and protection infrastructure will mean the sector struggles to reach EU GDPR compliance. At a time when we need to increase data governance standards and need to increase our knowledge, (indeed Tusla continues to draw upon and rely on data collection it no longer funds), a decrease in resources in this sensitive area is unsustainable.

“We continue to engage with Tusla in the hope that some resolution can be found that will enable the continued collection and usability of high-quality data from survivors into the future. In this way, survivor experiences can continue to be heard by Government, and therefore to influence Government policy in this area” added Ms Saidléar.

For information and comment: Clíona Saidléar, 087 2196447.

Notes:

  • For information please see previous statistical publications on www.rcni.ie
  • We will hold 2016 and 2017 data for a short while longer in anticipation of being able to bring it to a standard in the near future.
  • Processes of training, networking and supporting of data collection officers, policy and guidance reviews, data cleaning, analysis, oversight and independent verification could not be supported due to an absence of funding.

RCNI Press Release 27 Sept 2017 Rape and Pregnancy

Dear Editor,

Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RCNI) responding to the government’s announcement of a referendum to be held on the 8th Amendment of the Constitution call on the public debate to be respectful and informed by the best available facts and compassionate understanding when discussing the realities facing girls and women in Ireland pregnant following rape.

Rape survivors have always featured disproportionately in the public debates on abortion access in Ireland but we have limited facts to guide us.

For some years RCNI have released data on the pregnancy outcomes for rape survivors attending rape crisis centres. It is critical to always note that these facts do not tell us about the options, intentions, choices and the feelings of rape survivors.

We know survivors’ experiences are highly diverse. Each survivor faces a unique set of circumstances that they are best placed to make decisions about. In rape crisis we seek to support and empower each survivor as the experts in their own lives and process of recovery. We cannot and do not judge.

We urge anyone interested in representing survivors’ interests in this debate to read the RCNI submission to the Citizen’s Assembly before making any assumptions http://www.rcni.ie/wp-content/uploads/RCNI-Citizens-Assembly-submission-FINAL.pdf .

Given the sensitivity and the potential pain this topic causes it is critical that survivors of rape are respectfully and factually represented, without judgement, and in their diversity.

Yours sincerely
Clíona Saidléar
Executive Director
Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RCNI)
Carmichael centre, North Brunswick Street, Dublin 7

Child Abuse Mandatory reporting and Tusla record on investigating

Rape Crisis network Ireland (RCNI) welcome One in Four’s annual report today (4th Oct 2017). In particular we welcome their figures regarding their child protection reports into Tusla and the outcomes of same. These demonstrate concerning indicators that we may not be ready for the mandatory reporting Minister Zappone announced this week.

Clíona Saidléar RCNI executive director said, ‘a mandatory reporting regime can impose on adult survivors of child sexual violence in a number of ways. We must ensure that the intention of protecting children does not come at a cost to those who have already survived such crimes and trauma and indeed do serve to protect children. How does it impact on survivors’ sense of confidence and control in the world to be subject to mandatory reporting? How does it feel to have that report not then investigated or worse deemed ‘unfounded’? How useful is the information shared with Tusla, at such potential cost, if left un-investigated?

‘Mandatory reporting can only be legitimate if our processes are fit for purpose and treat survivors with respect and dignity. The One in Four figures give rise to concerns which need to be addressed urgently by Minister Zappone as she champions the introduction of mandatory reporting in December.’

Figures:
One in four revealed today that of the 91 child protection cases reported to Tusla in 2016, in line with Children First guidance, only 9 were investigated. Five cases were assessed to be ‘unfounded’, one was found to be ‘founded’, and three investigations are ongoing. https://www.oneinfour.ie/annual-report-2016


RCNI Press release
4th October 2017

For further information
Clíona Saidléar
087 2196447

8th Amendment of the Constitution

Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RCNI), responding to the government’s announcement of a referendum to be held on the 8th Amendment of the Constitution, call on the public debate to be respectful and informed by the best available facts and compassionate understanding when discussing the realities facing girls and women in Ireland pregnant following rape.

Rape survivors have always featured disproportionately in the public debates on abortion access in Ireland but we have limited facts about the approximately 5% of all female rape victims who become pregnant.

For some years RCNI have released data on the pregnancy outcomes for rape survivors attending rape crisis centres. It is critical to always note that these facts do not tell us about the options, intentions, choices and the feelings of rape survivors.

We know survivors’ experiences are highly diverse. Each survivor faces a unique set of circumstances that they are best placed to make decisions about. In rape crisis we seek to support and empower each survivor as the experts in their own lives and process of recovery. We cannot and do not direct, force or judge.

We urge anyone interested in representing survivors’ interests in this debate to read the RCNI submission to the Citizen’s Assembly before making any assumptions http://www.rcni.ie/wp-content/uploads/RCNI-Citizens-Assembly-submission-FINAL.pdf .

Given the sensitivity and the potential pain this topic causes it is critical that survivors of rape are respectfully and factually represented, without judgement, and in their diversity.

RCNI call for Victim’s Ombudsman

As the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Bill is debated in the Seanad (Weds 27th) RCNI call on the government to put in place a Victims’ Ombudsman to ensure the rights of victims in this Bill and the EU Directive on Victims of Crime are fully vindicated within our justice system.

Clíona Saidléar, RCNI Executive Director said, ‘This Bill and the EU Directive set out measures to ensure that the victim is supported appropriately throughout the justice process. As we know currently only a minority of victims are making the decision to report and stay with the justice process. One of the reasons is a fear of the system, what it will ask of survivors and how re-traumatising the process might be. Without survivors reporting there can be no adequate justice response.’

Caroline Counihan, RCNI Legal Director said, ‘Because we believe that supporting survivors is fundamental to delivering justice we are calling for a dedicated structure, a Victims’ Ombudsman Office, whose sole remit is reception and investigation of transgressions of this Act. Its procedures should be simple, free, easy to use and swift. The measures in this important Bill will alleviate much of the trauma of a trial, an Ombudsman will ensure survivors’ rights under the law are fully vindicated.

‘RCNI would also very much welcome a justice culture where the norm is that victims’ direct evidence is pre-recorded and used in court cases in all but the most exceptional circumstances as determined by a judge. It is important to understand that the recording of evidence does not interfere with a defendant’s right to a fair trial but rather lifts part of the stress of testifying from victims.’

For more contact Cliona on 087 2196447

Notes: RCNI is a member of the Victims’ Rights Alliance, which also recommends the establishment of such an Ombudsman structure.

Data protection: The State cannot be allowed to exempt itself from GDPR fines

14 June 2017

Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RCNI) today (14th June 2017) welcome the statement at the Oireachtas Committee on Justice and Equality by Data Protection Commissioner Helen Dixon, that a proposal to exempt Public bodies from fines under the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is of concern.

Clíona Saidléar, RCNI Executive Director said, ‘RCNI agree with the Commissioner that we should expect the highest standard of data protection from public bodies. RCNI would add that the capacity of civil society and the charity sector to hold the State to those highest standards of data protection, particularly in relation to the very significant amount of sensitive personal data we control, needs to be ensured by government.

‘For many charities providing services the principal risk to our beneficiaries is from the very State that has not secured our capacity to guard against the State itself. That that State now suggests it exempt itself from fines under GDPR should be cause for grave concern and cannot be allowed to stand.

‘To hold public bodies accountable, civil society must be empowered through capacity, resources and mechanisms that give us and our Data Protection Officers the independence to act robustly as data controllers as appropriate.

‘The Committee discussed the increased demands on the Data Protection Commissioner’s Office and the Courts in investigating and vindicating the rights of individuals and the need for resources for same. It is critical we bear in mind that the charity sector is also a key actor in protecting people’s data. We must reflect on how the charity sector will meet its obligations and how that will be structured into the government’s allocation of budgets and supporting the necessary structures.

‘Currently no independent funding stream exists from government for charities, particularly those funded by the State to provide services, to draw upon to fulfil their obligations as outlined in the regulation.’