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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