Rape Crisis Network Ireland is pleased to launch the report ‘A Safer Space: Counselling Survivors of Sexual Violence Online’ to coincide with annual international 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence campaign. The report can be downloaded here.
During the Covid-19 pandemic support services for survivors of sexual violence were forced to physically close and trauma counselling services moved online. In April 2021, Rape Crisis Network Ireland undertook a Clinical Innovation Project (CIP) called Counselling Survivors On- and Offline led by Dr Michelle Walsh and funded by Rethink Ireland. The research included an online survey on remote counselling for survivors of sexual violence that aimed to discover levels of satisfaction among survivors with counselling before and during the pandemic and to find out more broadly whether or not the quality and safety of online counselling for survivors of sexual violence meets rights and expectations.
The report ‘A Safer Space: Counselling Survivors of Sexual Violence Online’ presents the findings from survivors and counsellors of remote counselling in their own words and supported by data garnered from the project.
- 93% of survivors of sexual violence feel less supported receiving remote counselling than face-to-face counselling.
- 80% of survivors said that they did not have access to safe and/or private space for remote counselling.
- 93% of survivors said that face-to-face counselling was the preferred option
- 69% of survivors said they feel better supported in face-to-face counselling
- 25-35% of survivors surveyed wanted to continue to use blended counselling following the lock-down.
- Only 7% of survivors of sexual violence feel more supported receiving counselling remotely.
- Remote counselling is not a safe option for most survivors of sexual violence
- All survivors of sexual violence to have access to face-to-face counselling
- Individual assessment, survivor-centred guidelines and additional specialist training and supervision to be developed in order to render remote or blended counselling safe.
- Standards and guidance for specialist professional counsellors to be introduced
- A national strategy for regulation of specialist counselling for survivors of sexual violence to be developed including standards for training and accreditation of specialist and generalist counsellors, and for specialist clinical supervisors
- Survivor-centred and evidence-based standards for blended counselling to be established
The report indicates that the safe spaces provided by rape crisis centres and counselling services and practices offer safety that cannot be provided remotely. There are qualities inherent to in-person counselling that both survivors and counsellors believe cannot be easily replicated online, especially when establishing new counselling relationships.
Survivors’ views and needs are at the foreground of the CIP and the strong engagement of both survivors, counsellors and stakeholders in the project indicates the high degree of value placed in the research. The ethical implications of this and other findings are that remote counselling on its own cannot be recommended for survivors of sexual violence.