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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

RCNI responds to Minister Reilly’s response to Joan Collins, TD Priority Question and Ruth Coppinger TD’s in the Dail

Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RCNI) Press Release

8th July 2015

RCNI responds to Minister Reilly’s response to Joan Collins, TD Priority Question and Ruth Coppinger TD’s in the Dail

RCNI welcomes the questions put to Minister for Children James Reilly by Joan Collins, TD and Ruth Coppinger TD during today’s Priority Questions about removal of RCNI core funding by Tusla.

In her questions, Deputy Collins alluded to the role of RCNI and made the case that the Tusla cannot replace the role of the RCNI.

Minister Reilly maintained that funding provided to RCNI by Tusla was to develop and maintain a database of information recorded by workers in rape crisis centres.

In response, RCNI Acting Director Dr. Clíona Saidléar said: “First and foremost, RCNI’s purpose, for which it has received core funding since 1997, is primarily to represent the interests of survivors of sexual violence, ensure their voices are heard and to work towards solutions for prevention of sexual violence for the whole of society. Data collection is therefore a vital tool needed to achieve these objectives, not our core purpose.”

Minster Reilly also repeated his claim that Tusla has undertaken a comprehensive review of sexual and domestic violence services in consultation with service providers in order to identify strategic priorities and to set out a roadmap for the future delivery of these services. Presumably the decision to cease funding the RCNI arises out of that review. RCNI wishes to confirm Deputy Collins’ statement that at no point was such a review made available to us or indeed the subject service providers. We would ask the Minster to confirm whether he has seen that review.

In response to concerns raised by Minister Reilly that this database did not capture information from all 16 rape crisis centres, Dr Saidlear said:

“RCNI data and knowledge information system data is the collective voice of survivors attending Rape Crisis Centres, which provides the necessary evidence base to continue work to end sexual violence. 15 of 16 centres used the RCNI data system which was more than sufficient for our purposes of survivors’ experiences informing change.

“As we advised Tusla, it is their responsibility to ensure compliance of the services they fund to meet Tusla’s need for comprehensive operational administrative data which can then be easily delivered from the RCNI system. Tusla choose not to act in this way to enhance national planning towards meeting its objective of national service development.

“It should also be noted that prior to the inception of Tusla, 15 of the 16 Rape Crisis Centres used the RCNI data, knowledge and information system. Since Tusla took over, fragmentation, new gaps and duplication are arising not only in data collection but elsewhere.”

Minister Reilly said that Tusla has undertaken to take on the responsibility to develop and maintain a database as “a priority”. Tusla previously informed RCNI that they were taking over the collection of data for their purposes in January 2015. To date, over six months later, no new system is in place. Tusla in response to recent queries have said they have begun ‘scoping’ the ‘many complex issues associated’.

Dr. Cliona Saidléar said:

“It is now July, and Tusla have not produced a data collection system for Rape Crisis Centres and there is, to date, no timeline on this that we are aware of. As we have advised Tusla and the Minister, the complex issues Tusla are currently grappling with, in our expert opinion, will inevitably deliver partial and inadequate data collection and not the more ‘complete’ data to which the Minister refers.

“Tusla can either collect a much reduced and minimal set of information which will not provide the necessary information for challenging a rape supportive culture or for reducing levels of sexual violence or give survivors the independent and strong voice that the RCNI system provides. Or Tusla can attempt to collect personal information which, as the Office of the Data Protection Commissioner has flagged, may in fact be in breach of the Data Protection (amendment) Act 2003 and require new legislation. Given the nature of sexual violence in our culture and the ongoing lack of safety that the majority of survivors continue to feel in disclosing and reporting the crimes, a statutory database of such sensitive personal data is highly problematic given the majority of RCC users choose not to report to the Gardaí as is their right.

“In addition when Minister Reilly questions the reliability of the RCNI system under Dail privilege, this implicates RCNI and the staff and volunteers in 15 RCCs who guarantee the reliability and standard of information going in and the external academics who verify and certify the analysis and reliability of the data coming out.”

Dr Saidléar continued:

“The RCNI data collection system, which has been successfully collecting information given to us by survivors for over ten years, is non-statutory and has data protection measures in place which commit to honour the rights, privacy and choices of survivors, including those 66% of survivors who choose not to go to the Gardaí. We therefore feel that Tusla, by its nature as a statutory agency cannot and indeed should not attempt to move such personal data into the control of the state.”

 We continue to welcome a meeting with Minister Reilly on these matters.

Ends

For further information, please contact Clíona on 0872196447

Launch of EU Agency of Fundamental Rights (FRA) Violence Against Women: EU Wide Survey

Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RCNI) Press Release

5th March 2014

Launch of EU Agency of Fundamental Rights (FRA) Violence Against Women: an EU wide survey

RCNI, as the national Institute on Rape and Sexual violence and the lead national agency on data collection are delighted to be partnering with Safe Ireland, the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights and the National Women’s Council of Ireland today to launch the 1st Europe wide prevalence study of domestic and sexual violence ‘Violence against women: an EU wide survey.’

In light of these findings the RCNI calls on the Irish government to protect all funding to front line services and the vital support to those services which is the RCNI and Safe Ireland.

Fiona Neary, RCNI Director said, ‘This survey confirms that sexual violence against women and girls is pervasive and pandemic across Europe with 8% of Irish women saying they had experienced sexual violence since the age of 15 as against the European average of 11%.

‘Since 2009 core funding for rape crisis frontline services has been cut by 16.5% with further cuts confirmed for 2014. These cuts were to a sector that was already chronically under resourced and have been so unevenly distributed that in fact the Centre with the lowest funding was cut by over 30%.  At the same time secondary sources of funding, such as public donations and programme grants have also been severely reduced or stopped.

‘Ireland must continue to build on the work that has started – the on-going cuts to services and insecurity of national data collection programmes must be addressed by the state immediately, the challenge is to build on this foundation to work alongside the RCNI and the Rape Crisis sector to create the infrastructure and the cultural change that will prevent rape and sexual violence.’

‘The research finds that women and girls in different countries have a wide variety of experiences. It is clear that prevalence studies on violence against women simultaneously measure not only prevalence but also, to a greater or lesser extent, a country’s attitude towards talking about these crimes.

‘In some EU Member States it remains a taboo to talk about sexual violence, especially sexual violence within the family. The majority of Irish women who had experienced sexual violence from a non partner who did not go to the police (48%) or any other services (66%) said this was because they would deal with it themselves or because the perpetrator was a friend or it was a family matter. Women named a very high level of fear of assault in our society (28% saying they feared assault in the past 12 months) with surprising numbers of women in work reporting harassment (55% of women experienced sexual harassment, 32% were harassed by a boss, colleague or customer).

Without concerted intervention Ireland will remain a country where women feel they have no choice but to face sexual violence alone.  Until our families, schools, health care and other institutions name sexual violence, we should not expect girls and women who are victimised to do so.’

‘RCNI calls on the Irish government to respond to FRA conclusions, that adequately resourcing responses to victims and supporting systematic evidence generation is vital. The practice of passing the responsibility for this issue to limited remit agencies and departments resulting in gaps and missed opportunities must end. Whole of government action is needed to bring about credible long-term prevention work across all age groups in all statutory settings.

For information
Cliona Saidlear
0872196447

FRA, Violence Against Women: an EU wide survey, is available here http://fra.europa.eu/DVS/DVT/vaw.php 

FRA findings on Sexual Violence Occurrence Ireland Average (%) EU Average (%)
Sexual violence by a partner or a non-partner since the age of 15 8 11
Sexual violence by a partner since the age of 15 6 7
Sexual violence by a non-partner since the age of 15 7 6
Number of perpetrators in the most serious incident of physical and/or sexual violence by a non-partner3 or more perpetrators

2 or more perpetrators

1 perpetrator

1012

77

88

84

Reasons for not contacting the police following the most serious incident of physical and/or sexual violence by a non-partner since the age of 15?Deal with it myself/involved a friend/family matter

Shame, embarrassment?

48

14

33

11

Experiencing any form of stalking since the age of 15
Experiencing stalking in the form of cyberstalking since the age of 15
12
5
18
5
Experiencing any form of sexual harassment:Since the age of 15

Six most severe forms*

In the past 12 months

Six most severe forms*                                               

48

39

19

12

55

45

21

13

Worrying about being physically or sexually assaulted by any
perpetrator
in the 12 months prior to the interviewBy someone from work, school or training

By a previous partner

By another acquaintance or a friend

By an unknown person

285

10

4

23

21
47

3

15

Avoiding places or situations for fear of being physically or sexually assaulted in the 12 months prior to the interviewAvoiding to leave the home on her own

Avoiding to be alone with a colleague or boss at workAvoiding to take certain streets or going to certain areas

69
123

52

53
14

3

37

 

* The six (out of total of 11) most severe forms of sexual harassment were considered: 1) Unwelcome touching, hugging or kissing, 2) Sexually suggestive comments or jokes that made you feel offended, 3) Somebody sending or showing you sexually explicit pictures, photos or gifts that made you feel offended, 4) Somebody indecently exposing themselves to you, 5) Somebody made you watch or look at pornographic material against your wishes, 6) Unwanted sexually explicit emails or SMS messages that offended you.

Copyright © 2012 European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights

One in Three Women in Europe Experience Violence – Europe’s Biggest Study

 violence against women header

March 5, 2014

One in Three Women in Europe Experience Violence – Europe’s Biggest Study

One in three – or 33% – of women in Europe say that they have experienced physical or sexual violence since the age of 15 by a partner or non-partner, according to the findings of Europe’s biggest-ever study on violence against women carried out by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (EU FRA).

Over one in five – 22% – have experienced physical or sexual violence by a partner and 43% have experienced some form of psychological violence by either a current or former partner.

The shocking statistics reveal that women are being abused at home, at work, in public and on-line every day across the 28 EU member states.  The full statistics, including initial comparisons for Ireland, will be revealed at a seminar hosted tomorrow (March 5th) by SAFE Ireland, the EU FRA, the National Women’s Council of Ireland, and Rape Crisis Network Ireland (Mansion House, 10:15 am to 2 pm).

Patricia Prendiville, Irish Board member of the EU FRA, said: “The figures in this survey cannot and should not be ignored.  Physical sexual and psychological violence against women is an extensive human rights abuse in all EU member states including Ireland.”

The FRA survey on violence against women is based on face-to-face interviews with 42,000 women, including 1,500 Irish women, aged between 18 and 74.  The women were interviewed in their own homes.   The survey is the most comprehensive worldwide on women’s experience of violence.

The survey also reveals that over half of all women (55%) have experienced some form of sexual harassment with one in three victims saying that the perpetrator was a boss, colleague or customer.  One in three women – 33% – have childhood experiences of physical or sexual violence at the hands of an adult.

For more information contact: Edel Hackett, Tel: 087-2935207

fra

Role of Alcohol in Sexual Violence

This table featured in Dr. Antonia Abbey‘s presentation for the launch of ‘Young People, Alcohol and Sex: What’s consent got to do with it?’. It compares how alcohol affects victims and perpetrators before, during and after a sexual assault.Alcohol role sexual violence

Young people and sexual violence: Government failing to prevent rape and sexual violence while alcohol gets offenders off the hook.

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Frances Fitzgerald this morning (28th Jan 2014) launches new Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RCNI) research on Young People, Alcohol and Sex, undertaken by Pádraig MacNeela and his research team in NUI Galway.

Fiona Neary, RCNI Executive Director said, ‘This report tells us that without Government action rapes that can be prevented will continue to occur.  The findings are so shocking that the government must immediately take action to prevent further sexual violence. Therefore  RCNI today also launches ‘The Older Child and Sexual Violence: Questions and Challenges in delivering a national response,’ which is a pathway for our government to address the serious gaps and failings in the protection of older children from sexual violence.

This research is relentless in demonstrating young people’s inability to talk about sex, never mind negotiate consent. The young people who took part in this research told us they were wholly unprepared for the task of negotiating sexual consent and thus were at risk of sexual violence. Naming crimes of rape and sexual violence remains very difficult for young people, other than in a far too narrow, uninformed manner. Growing up in a binge drinking culture for young Irish people means that reporting crimes and concerns to the appropriate authorities is rarely seen as an option – leaving young sex offenders free to reoffend causing trauma and lifelong harm to others.

Decreasing sexual violence is possible and our strategy document shows the way. This will only happen however with sustained resources and actions, in combination across Government agencies. There is little evidence of this at present in relation to the older child.

At today’s seminar Dr. Pádraig MacNeela’s will present the stark findings of his research. We are delighted to have with us one of the most published authors on the area of sexual violence and alcohol Dr. Antonia Abbey, from Wayne State University, Michigan, to further guide us in international evidence and best practice. After which Rape Crisis Network brings to you our reflections on the policy implications of this and previous research.

The Full Report, Summary of Findings and Recommendations and RCNI Policy Document will be available on www.rcni.ie after 10am on the 28th January 2014

Notes:

Findings of ‘Young People, alcohol and sex: What’s consent got to do with it?’ Padraig MacNeela, Thomas Conway, Siobhan Kavanagh, Lisa Ann Kennedy, & John McCaffrey, NUIG, 2014

For young people in this study:

  1. Consent is understood to be predominantly unspoken.
  2. Consent is expected to follow a highly gender stereotyped, heterosexual relationship model, with the male sex urge occupying an especially prominent position alongside a gate keeping female role.
  3. Alcohol consumption is understood to be a facilitator of the majority of sexual hook ups.
  4. Victims are expected to react in a highly uniform and passive way.
  5. Sexual violence that was other than vaginal rape of a female by a male was difficult to name.

Key Recommendations:

  1. Improve preparedness for negotiating consent through youth targeted engagement strategies to encourage the knowledge and skills required for applying the understanding of consent to a range of relationships and types of sexual activity.
  2. Promote a better understanding of alcohol as a source of risk and harm.
  3. Improve knowledge and attitudes to reporting sexual assault and seeking professional support.
  4. Support for a ‘decision point’ approach to managing consent to develop a skill-based approach for managing problematic consent situations.

New RCNI Child Sexual Violence report findings call for new responses in Child Protection

Minister Frances Fitzgerald today launched a RCNI ground breaking report ‘Hearing Child Survivors of Sexual Violence: Towards a National Response’. This report provides new data which can reduce child sexual violence crimes and protect vulnerable children more effectively.  It provides a better understanding of risk and vulnerability to sexual violence, confirming that sexual crimes differ in substantive ways across the age and gender of the child. RCNI today calls on Minister for Children to ensure the future funding for this essential data collection of sexual violence against children in Ireland.

report-thumb-hearing-child-2013

Fiona Neary, RCNI Director said, ‘This report provides Ireland with the necessary data to deliver child protection more robustly – it is critical for children in Ireland that we continue to collect this high quality data on sexual violence crimes. It is a wide-ranging report with many findings and many recommendations. Both age and gender of the victim have been underestimated as factors in terms of the extent to which crimes of sexual violence differ. Age and gender have significant impacts in terms of:

  • Likely duration and severity of abuse
  • Relationship to the perpetrator
  • Involvement of a child perpetrator

This is the first time this data has been collected across 16 frontline services – Rape Crisis Centres and CARI. It is invaluable and can greatly assist in knowing where and how to target our interventions and responses to the best effect.

For example, teaching children ‘stranger danger’ is not sufficient, child protection measures must address the fact that most children are abused by someone in the family and someone they know. Messaging for children over the age of 12 requires a very different content to younger children, as the nature of abuse will be significantly different.’

Nature of abuse and relationship to Perpetrator

This report spells out that a child under 13 is most likely to be targeted for abuse by a family member rather than an acquaintance. The exact opposite is true for a teenage girl. We know that a child under 13 experiencing abuse is likely to be victimised for years, whereas a teenage girl is more likely to experience a one off incident that lasts for a number of hours.  Girls’ vulnerability to rape increases as she ages. Girls over 13 who attended RCCs in 2012 were most commonly subjected to rape and in the majority of cases, rape by their peers or those only slightly older. When assaulted, the girl child is more likely than a boy to be raped.  All of these differences impact on the child’s ability to disclose, to seek help and to access support. We need to understand these different phases of vulnerability to shape an effective Child Protection response that protects all children.

The Child Perpetrator

The rate of sexual abuse by children is also underestimated. 37% of all perpetrators of child sexual violence are children, 97% of those are males. This points to an urgent need to challenge culture and norms of gender and sexual inequality and in particular to focus our attention on boys. The WHO recommends we target age appropriate education and messages about consent and refusal, equitable sexual relationships and sexual communication to children of all ages (WHO/BZgA, 2013). Ireland’s formal education responses to sexual violence are optional and do not follow the 0 to 18 model of best practice.

Fiona Neary went on to say, ‘We do our boys and young men a grave disservice if we do not talk to them about consent, sexual activity and sexually harmful behaviours in a sustained and structured way at every opportunity afforded to the state and society. If we do not support, challenge and educate the boy child, we fail both the boy and the girl child. This is a much more valuable focus that teaching ‘stay-safe’ lists for girls, which are often impossible to achieve and can result in victim blaming attitudes.

‘What this new evidence shows is an urgent need for us to continue to deepen our understanding of sexual violence against children in order to prevent such violence and to increase access to disclosure, support and justice for those who have been victimised.’

Some findings and statistics from ‘Hearing child survivors of sexual violence: Towards a national response’

Common patterns of abuse

  • Children under age 13 are most vulnerable to sexual assault, perpetrated over many years by a male family member in the survivor’s home/abusers home.
  • Children aged 13 onwards are most vulnerable to rape perpetrated by a male non-family member (usually friends/acquaintances/neighbours) over a number of hours in an outdoor locations or other location outside the home.

Key statistics

  • 75% of child survivors, both girls and boys, aged 13-17 were subjected to rape.
  • 60% of female child survivors were subjected to rape compared to 30% of male child survivors.
  • 70% of children under the age of 5 were subjected to sexual assault.
  • 73% of girls aged 13-17 were abused in an outdoor location or location other than their own home or the perpetrators home.
  • 85% of incidents of sexual violence perpetrated against girls aged 13-17 lasted hours.
  • 59% of child survivors disclosed experiencing additional forms of violence along with the sexual violence.

Adult perpetrators of sexual violence against child survivors

  • The average age of perpetrators was 26, 98% were male.
  • 31% of incidents of abuse against child survivors were perpetrated by family members.
  • 39% of incidents of abuse against child survivors were perpetrated by friends/acquaintances/neighbours.

Child perpetrators of sexual violence against child survivors

  • 37% of perpetrators of sexual violence against child survivors were under age 18.
  • 97% of child perpetrators were male.
  • Child perpetrators were most likely to be friends/acquaintances/neighbours of the survivor (56%).
  • Family members accounted for 24% of child perpetrators of sexual violence against children.
  • Child perpetrators abused those of similar age or younger who were usually non-family members.

Disclosure and reporting

  • Child survivors mostly disclosed the sexual violence to their parents first (75%).
  • 82% of sexual incidents disclosed by child survivors were reported to a formal authority by the survivor themselves or their guardian.

Notes:

This specialist report, providing a detailed examination of child sexual abuse, with data that has never been available in Ireland heretofore, is the result of a dynamic collaboration between RCNI, 13 Rape Crisis Centres and Children at Risk Ireland (CARI) using the RCNI national sexual violence frontline data collection system. This collaboration, and the RCNI data collection system, places Ireland at the forefront of combating crimes of sexual violence, as it delivers exceptional analysis of the perpetrators including how and where children of different ages and genders are targeted.

report-thumb-hearing-child-2013Download the report here (PDF 6.6Mb)

– Ends –

For more information please contact Anne-Marie Flynn on 087 9848459

Column: Why is only sexual abuse involving physical violence deemed ‘real’?

Former newspaper tycoon Eddy Shah’s has claimed some underage girls are to blame for their own sexual abuse, highlighting the persistence of the ‘she was asking for it’ narrative, writes Clíona Saidléar.

CHILDREN WILL BE children, especially teenagers it seems, and what is an older, powerful man to do if they will throw themselves at him? This was the plea made by Mr Eddy Shah this weekend when he described the ongoing UK investigations of certain men’s sexual activity with underage children, largely girls, as ‘easy policing’, ‘easy prosecutions’ and a ‘witch hunt’.

What he clearly expressed was the understanding that sexual violence committed by coercion, deceit and manipulation was largely a victim’s own fault, and this standard to even apply when the victim was a child. In contrast sexual violence that is committed with physical violence is deemed ‘real’. Yet the majority of sexual violence involves power and coercion and little if any physical violence.

Mr Shah, who was recently cleared of raping a girl between the age of 12 and 15, came out with a set of statements about powerful men (of whom he is one) and celebrities engaging in sexual activity with underage girls. He asked us to have sympathy for those men, whom he does not deny had sex with minors, who are now being investigated by the police, and rather to direct our ire at the girls and boys involved whom he claims have largely only themselves to blame.

Do the laws of decency not apply to powerful men?

The particular case Mr Shah is making is that the law and common understandings of decency should not apply in the same way to men who were and are famous and powerful. After all a 40 year old man having sex with a 12-year-old is altogether different from a 40 year old famous rockstar bestowing on a 12-year-old the privilege of his sexual attention. While the first are clearly criminal child abusers, the later are not to be held responsible as the children in question most likely threw themselves at the rockstars is the argument being made.

Mr Shah goes on to describe a child’s vulnerability, compounded by the vastly disproportionate power of the older celebrity, as mitigation for abusing that child. Exposed in this argument is an overriding sense of entitlement that sweeps away legal and common sense understandings of child abuse and responsibility. Put simply, positions of power, particularly fame, come with entitlements. Those entitlements include sex, with whomever, and the younger the better.

A sense of entitlement underlies most sexual crimes

As Mr Shah rightly points out children have always wanted to ‘appear adult and do adult things’. Does a person’s – and in particular a child’s –desire to get close to power and fame ever justify abusing and/or taking advantage of that vulnerability? If you take advantage of a grown woman in those circumstances you, at the very least, deserve to be called out as a cad. If you do it to a child you are a child abuser. No ifs, buts or maybes.

The perpetrators’ utopia that Mr Shah describes, with its stark and extreme sense of entitlement, exists in a privileged world of powerful abusers. Yet we should not forget that a sense of entitlement underlies most crimes of sexual violence. Most abusers take what is not given freely because they convince themselves they deserve, have earned or are in some way are entitled, to that other person’s body.

The challenge for us is to take the lesson from this exposure of a culture of entitlement and see how that culture plays out in everyday responses to sexual pressure, coercion and crimes.

This column was published on theJournal.ie on August 8th, 2013. You can read the original here.

Column: The CollegeTimes.ie article endorses the view of women as targets and men as predators

A ‘One Night Stand Guide – For Him’ on the CollegeTimes.ie caused controversy today after it told men to ‘prey’ on women and get them drunk. Cliona Saidlear writes there was nothing satirical about the article.

collegetimes-ie-sex-one-night-stand-2-390x285

Image: College Times.ie

FROM TIME TO time deeply problematic articles are written and published about sex or more precisely how to get it. These are largely but not exclusively penned by young authors and largely but not exclusively published on student and youth platforms. The latest article around which there is considerable discussion is an article published in the College Times on August 6 entitled, ‘One Night Stand Guide: For Him’.

These articles are characterised by an assumption that sexual activity amongst young people in our society is largely generated by men’s insatiable appetite for ‘no strings’ sex and these men’s capacity to trick women into ‘giving it up.’ Women are targets, men the predators.

While it is wearying and perhaps disrespectful to readers’ intelligence to point out the litany of misogyny in these articles and the clearly troubling and dangerous unrelenting assault on any concept of consent, what is less obvious and noted is the misandry that underpins every argument.

Women as sexual objects

Throughout these articles men are assigned a sexual straightjacket. They are encouraged to be opportunistic and manipulative towards fulfilling that narrow sexual objective, ejaculation inside a vagina. From the smorgasbord of sexual experience men are supposed to snatch the dry cracker and reject all other delights, with men being instructed to avoid intimacies such as ‘kissing’ and ‘look[ing] her in the eye’.

Secondly men are expected to be contradictory and duplicitous; sincere yet masters of manipulation, show kindness and compassion while being remorselessly detached and cruel, have honesty and integrity but lie flawlessly. In other words in the battleground of love, relationships and sexual activity men of otherwise sound, decent and good character are understood to operate with an altogether different set of rules. A set of rules that dehumanises and brutalises everyone involved.

When sexual activity and relationships, aspects of the human experience with so much potential for joy and fun, are reduced to a combat zone where the best that can be hoped for is to come out the murderer rather than the prey, there is little left for either sexes to be proud of or hopeful for.

Victimising women

The principal skills men must learn in these how-to guides are about identifying women’s existing vulnerabilities, creating and increasing those vulnerabilities and then exploring the means to use those vulnerabilities to manipulate, pressure and coerce them into unwanted sexual activity. The icing on the cake is how to then humiliate and denigrate the women who have been victimised by these tactics.

The tenuous negotiation of consent described here occurs when the man is instructed to invade a woman’s body space in seemingly innocuous ways, a hand placed on the small of her back, and if the woman does not react with aggression then she is understood to have given the green light.

The women are name called and belittled throughout. In this latest article the author cranks up the misogyny with each paragraph first likening women to dogs, then horses, fish, ducklings, baby gazelles and finally simply as ‘prey’. These dehumanisations underscored by an accompanying cartoon from a popular tv show of a couple in bed with the female depicted as a rhinoceros.

However, much more sinister is the fact that in the final utterance of the article women are humanised again by virtue of the ‘successful’ male ‘hero’ of the piece being likened to a ‘murderer’. Murder being, by definition, something only one human being can do to another.

This article first appeared on theJournal.ie on August 8th, 2013. You can read the original here

 

As long as Coca Cola sells rape culture victims of rape will choose silence

It is not only sex that sells, it appears rape culture also sells, and it sells Coca Cola.

Only 30% of 2011 Rape Crisis Centre clients had reported the crime to the Gardaí. Ultimately, this figure should be recognised for what it is, a failure. The majority of survivors of sexual violence crimes choose not to seek justice and reporting one of the most serious violent crimes on our statute books is the exception, not the norm.

Yet 30% suggests a vast improvement. While the figures are not directly comparable, only a decade ago the national prevalence study (the SAVI report) found that only 10% of all survivors were reporting the crimes to the formal authorities.

Daily Mail 1What has and is changing are our laws, formal policy and guidance, particularly concerning child protection, at the same time the RCNI and our member Rape Crisis Centres have been working closely with statutory agencies, the Gardaí in particular, transforming the range of supports, expertise, communications and responses available to ensure the least added trauma to a survivor engaging with the system.

Yet still only 30% of survivors make the choice to engage with the authorities. While there are many detailed reasons why each survivor makes the personal choice that is right for them in their own circumstances, one overwhelming aspect weighing heavily on every survivor’s decision, is culture.

Survivors often choose not to tell because they make the assessment that they will not be believed; that they will be judged; that they will be blamed; that their character and behaviour will become part of a story that is told about how the perpetrator who chose to rape them wasn’t entirely responsible. This is rape culture.

Victims assess that they, the victim, will be held accountable for the upset caused to loved ones by the crime. Survivors will often assume the responsibility of protecting others from the harm caused by the rapist, that responsibility will often cost them their chance at justice and perhaps even support. These victims will assess that cost as the lesser of two evils. That is rape culture.

Those assessments are made by a survivor because they have spent a lifetime learning the rules. These rules are based on a simple truism which states that women and men are sexually unequal with men having higher and at times almost uncontrollable (and always heterosexual) sex drives.

The rules therefore state that given women’s bodies tempt men; a good woman should take it upon herself to protect herself, and indeed men, from the temptation she presents to men. Men who resist their ‘natural’ instincts to take women regardless of their consent are good men and furthermore should act to protect their women from all other men, none of whom can be trusted, forming a never-ending gendered protection racket.

In this story a woman’s sexual experiences are not her own rather they are men’s experiences of desiring, protecting, resisting or abusing her. A woman’s voice, a woman’s choice and a woman’s right to say YES has little space here. Put in these stark terms it sound preposterous (probably because it is) but this makes it no less real.

Coca-ColaThe messages reminding us of these rules are everywhere in the fabric of our culture sometimes in the most innocent of places. Witness one of the latest Coca cola ads where the viewer is invited to feel uplifted by the endearing and positive young teenage boy who is proudly declaring his act of controlling his sister’s sexuality while playfully chiding his friend to obey his command to keep his hands off his sister. He does not demand his friend listens to his sister, he demands he listen to him. It is not only sex that sells, it appears rape culture also sells, and it sells Coca Cola.

For victims of sexual violence crimes the impact of this story of unequal genders and sexuality and its rules often means that they blame themselves, choose silence and experience added trauma.

Therefore, the child groomed to perform sexual acts will understand the ‘truth’ in the words spoken by their abuser that the child provoked the assault and that the abuser cannot help themselves. They will understand that they deserved this because not only did they grow up in a home where they were told they were worthless but they also understand when the abuser explains these acts are their shame.

Daily Mail 2The boy being raped will accept that he should be enjoying this, even though he doesn’t, because he has been exposed to pornography since he was 9 that told him real men always enjoy sex. The 15 year old girl will know that because she was drinking underage when she was raped she has no one to blame but herself because she had been warned all her life that bad things happened to bad girls. The middle aged woman, who took a lift home with a man she was on a date with, will know that if she had wanted to call what happened next ‘rape’, she should not have let him pay for dinner and give her a lift home. The woman who fell asleep in a bed at a party and woke to find someone she had spoken to earlier that night raping her, will know they both know she will not report him because she has already been set up by a list of ‘stay safe’ rules, many of which they both know she has already broken that night. Like the majority of victims of sexual violence crimes they will not report.

Until we change the script and take equality seriously, we will live in a culture where victims of sexual violence struggle with self-blame, society judges victims and Coca Cola sells soft drinks to children with a ‘feel good’ message about sexual violence that does not condemn sexual aggression, does not challenge a potential perpetrator to respect and listen to a girl’s lack of consent, but rather cements two teenage boys’ friendship on the winning side of a game whose backdrop is the ever present threat of rape.

This article first appeared in the Daily Mail in July 2013.