Independently monitoring State’s response to sexual violence is a must

Recently we were reminded, yet again, that institutions require independent monitoring if vulnerable people and their interests are to be protected. The review by Dr Geoffrey Shannon SC into St John’s Ambulance published in March found that there had been a ‘significant degree of organisational awareness’ of threats to child safety and a failure to act on this knowledge. March also saw the publication of a report into Dignity and Equality issues in the Defence Forces that found that it “barely tolerates women and, at its worst, verbally, physically, sexually and psychologically abuses women in its ranks”. Both reiterated the essential lesson that institutions should not be policing themselves, which, to our shame, should be a lesson well learned in Ireland. Yet today this government is proposing to set up a whole new infrastructure to prevent and meet the needs of sexual violence victims, without any element of independent monitoring. This is inexplicable.

The problem that is to be addressed involves some of the most vulnerable and victimised people in our society. This is not a niche issue: the Central Statistics Office’s Sexual Violence Survey 2023, the most comprehensive and substantial overview of sexual violence in over 20 years, found that four in ten people experience sexual violence in their lifetime: 52% of women and 28% of men, and the problem is increasing: 65% of young women between the ages of 18 and 24 report being affected by sexual violence. Neither is it an issue that can be relegated to outside the home: in fact, the most dangerous place for women is in a relationship with 64% of women who experienced sexual violence in their lifetime abused by a partner/ex-partner.  Patterns of victimisation emerge that suggest continued vulnerability over a lifetime: 15% of adults were subjected to sexual violence as both a child and as an adult. Rates of disclosure are not high: only 47% of adults who experienced sexual violence in their lifetime told someone about at least one experience of sexual violence. This is the scale of the problem that this new DSGBV infrastructure is designed to address.

The current Zero Tolerance: Third National Strategy to combat Domestic Sexual and Gender Based Violence reflects a step change in the Government’s approach to DSGBV and its prioritisation on the State agenda. For the first time the government is approaching the issue with the belief that change is possible rather than finding better ways to live with the intolerable.

RCNI particularly welcomed the commitment to a dedicated and specialist DSGBV agency. For too long DSGBV had fallen between agencies and departments, which has led to a lack of oversight and understanding of the issues and resulted in gaps in responding effectively. One such stark example is the Department of Housing failing to count how many people on their housing need register were homeless because of domestic violence. The answer is – a lot! The DSGBV Agency General Scheme is currently being examined by the Oireachtas Committee on Justice.  However, neither the Strategy nor the draft legislation contains provision for independent monitoring, apart from delegation of monitoring around the one aspect of children to the existing Ombudsman.

The State is committed to oversight and accountability within government, with the Minister for Justice and cabinet keeping a close watch and steer on the new Agency and its implementation and coordination of the Zero tolerance strategy.  This is to be welcomed. However, what is neglected is the establishment, resourcing, or indeed any proposal to place on a statutory footing, a mechanism for independently monitoring and evaluating the government’s adherence to its obligations.

Not only would such a mechanism do much to support the work of the Agency and government, the Council of Europe Istanbul Convention, of which Ireland is a signatory, explicitly requires effective monitoring under Article 10. Its evaluation of other countries’ attempts to meet the obligations under Article 10 points out the challenge. In their 2016 report they stated:  ‘A situation in which close institutional ties exist between those who implement measures and bear political responsibility for them on the one hand and those who are supposed to evaluate the efficacy of those measures on the other, or even one in which the two groups are identical, provides fertile ground for conflicts of interests and can weaken the analysis.’

We have learnt many times over in Ireland, particularly around sexual violence, that leaving authorities to police themselves is not just bad practice but is failure of design, it would appear the Council of Europe agree.

We cannot begin this new page in addressing sexual violence by replicating old and failed practices.


Dr Clíona Sáidléar, Executive Director, Rape Crisis Network Ireland

Originally published in the Irish Examiner here

The irrefutable reality is that sexual violence is horrifyingly normal and we need to act

Wednesday’s launch of the Central Statistics Office Sexual Violence Survey is not just yet more data on sexual violence, rather, it is the data that all other data into the future will be measured against.

This is prevalence data, undertaken as part of the suite of official statistics of the State. This is the evidence on who we are as a society, the basis for Government action and our measure into the future of its success.

The survey is substantial and comprehensive: More than 4,500 randomly-selected people responded, with very high numbers completing the full questionnaire. These numbers give us statistics that represent the reality of our society as a whole.

All aspects of sexual violence, from rape to sexual non-contact digitally-enabled sexual violence are included.

Not one more survivor’s story is required to prove what these statistics now set down as our evidence base about sexual violence. Future research must build on these facts. These facts now must compel our action.

Much of the evidence is not new. Rather, these statistics and, importantly, who did the research, are about the things we have long known becoming formally and officially quantified and therefore to be acted upon. It is not news to us, broadly speaking, that 40% of the population have experienced some form of sexual violence in their lifetime. But this fact is now coming not from NGOs like ourselves or from survivors speaking out in the media, but is embedded in our State’s official statistics cycle.

This is a formal declaration that no part of the crime of sexual violence will be considered private or outside or beneath the notice or responsibility of the State in the discharge of its duty and business.

However, there is detail here too that must shape how we act.

We are reminded that sexual violence is fundamentally about inequality and its reinforcement. The primary discrimination being reinforced is gender inequality. Gender and sex determine who perpetrators target, when and in what circumstances, with other characteristics intersecting. The overall prevalence rate of 40% translates to 52% of females and 28% of males who have been subjected to sexual violence. The sex variable remains the most important fact about sexual violence.

When we further look at the detail, we see a very significant difference in the experiences across age groups, with 65% of females between the ages of 18 to 24 being subjected to sexual violence already in their lifetime, compared with 35% of those aged 65 and over.

The CSO tells us that this does come with a caveat where we might expect younger people to have a greater awareness of sexual violence and consent along with clearer recall as the events are more recent to them.

Intersection of sexual and domestic violence

The second fundamental thing we are reminded is that sexual violence is a crime of opportunity and opportunity’s shadow, vulnerability. Context matters.

The most dangerous place for women is within a relationship and 64% of females who are subjected to sexual violence in their lifetime are abused by a partner or ex-partner. In addition, that context of intimate partnerships confers further vulnerability and opportunity. It very powerfully imposes silence on victims and its corollary, impunity on perpetrators.

For adults subjected to sexual violence by non-partners, the overall disclosure rate is 55%, however when the violence is perpetrated by a partner/ex-partner, the disclosure rate falls to 16%.

In short, you are the most likely to be abused in a relationship and you are unlikely to tell anyone or seek support.

New forms of sexual violence 

The third fundamental is that the expression and perpetuation of sexual violence is constantly evolving with new opportunities.

The CSO included questions about ‘sexual non-contact’. This allows for the capture and hopefully future-proofing of our measurement around the evolving forms of digitally-enabled sexual violence.

The CSO questions under ‘non-contact’ covers acts such as being coerced to undress or pose for photos or video, to look at pornography, to have someone physically expose themselves to you, or to experience someone masturbating in front of you, all of which are commonly, but not exclusively, digitally enabled.

For females aged 18 to 24 who experience sexual violence in childhood, 40% have such non-contact experiences, while that figure is no more than 26% for any other age category.

Males aged 18 to 24 who are subjected to sexual violence in childhood also experience higher levels of non-contact abuse than those older than them (28% compared with no more than 19% for any other age category).

Some of that age difference in experience will be accounted for by challenges in recalling of past events but the figure again reminds us that the opportunity for sexual violence has become an altogether new and transformed challenge amongst our younger generations as technology enables both our engagement with the world as well as perpetrators’ exploitation, domination, and abuse of the vulnerable.

Underreporting and culture 

The CSO states that even with the care in design and success of the survey, due to the nature of sexual violence, it expects that this survey still underreports the prevalence.

Some of that challenge is the recall of past events that were culturally stigmatised, denied, and minimised. Stigma used to be about an unequal set of expectations on girls and women compared to boys and men around their sexuality and bodies. These meant that survivors, even if they were not blamed for the perpetrator’s crimes (which was not always the case), were nevertheless made to understand that they were in some way tainted by their experience.

We have made some significant inroads in our culture to eliminate victim-blaming, however, we also have new and emerging stigma. This new stigma centres around being accused of being sexually unadventurous.

If our culture equates progressiveness with a distorted ‘liberalised’ attitude to sex, such that we risk our personal sexual boundaries becoming suspect and contested, how will we set and hold boundaries?

Dr Clíona Sáidléar, Executive Director, Rape Crisis Network Ireland

Originally published in the Irish Examiner

RCNI Recruitment: Legal Policy and Support Manager


Rape Crisis Network Ireland is recruiting for a Legal Policy and Support Manager

The RCNI Legal Policy and Support manager role is pivotal in achieving best outcomes for survivors in sexual violence at a time of whole of society and governmental reform and transformation.

You will join a dynamic, impactful team, working reflectively and proactively with a sector, survivors, professionals and government at multiple levels towards evidencing and innovating into solutions and capacity building.

You will work to RCNI’s vision and mission towards an Ireland where we live free of sexual violence through being an innovative and supportive specialist within a movement to end sexual violence.

We are a learning organisation, striving for excellence, investing in building expertise, enriching the feminist analysis of power and violence, encompassing diversity, and employing human rights tools.

We work from the principle of empowerment in a trauma informed way, where we believe survivors are the experts in their own lives and where their agency is acknowledged, choices enabled and dignity respected. We work flexibly and collaboratively, prioritising outcomes.

As Legal Policy and Support Manager you will:

  • Lead on Sexual Violence Legal Policy development and advocacy
  • Develop and deliver range of legal supports in the context of Sexual Violence responses and services
  • Build capacity of the wider professional and non-professional community to respond to and prevent sexual violence.

For full job description click here.

To apply please send concise CV and cover letter of no more than 2 pages detailing how you fit the criteria to

For any queries please contact

RCNI as an NGO seeks to benchmark with public sector rates of pay, the relevant scale for this post is the state solicitor scale.

Closing date for applications Monday 3 April 2023. Following shortlisting interviews are expected to take place the week of the 17 April.


Digital opportunities for women starts with safety  

This year the UN Women theme for International Women’s Day is focused on the digital world and its opportunities for gender equality. No matter where we are, how privileged or how poor, digital technology has transformed our lives: while there are undoubtedly many benefits to global communication and interconnectedness this technology has also upended previously-held certainties, opened up new battlegrounds in an ever-polarised society and developed new ways to oppress, exploit, shame and dismiss women and girls not least in the area of sexual violence and exploitation. 

The scale of sexual exploitation online is often what we focus on but it is more accurate to think of this as a whole of society issue. There is no online world that is separate from our offline lives. The consumption of violent pornography (which is the vast majority of pornography) and sexual exploitation does not simply create repeated abuse and colour the worldview, behaviour and mental health of the consumer, it impacts all those around them who encounter their groomed relationship to our boundaries. If the influence of pornography back in 2003 could be described as creating the wallpaper of our lives, digital sexual exploitation today has folded itself into our DNA. 

In rape crisis we are all too familiar with the terrible reality of ongoing abuse for survivors who know or fear that their abusers took images or videos of the abuse. But survivors of sexual violence are not alone in this fear. Since the advent of smartphones, a growing percentage of people in sexual relationships over the past few decades have consented to or shared sexualised images of themselves at some stage – many now live with the unknown that this material may be ‘out there’ and potentially used against them. 

Then there is the terrifying vista of deep faking where someone’s face can be grafted onto images making that person ‘perform’ the sexualised and violent fantasies of another without their knowledge, never mind consent. This phenomenon has now moved offline with sex doll manufacturers creating the dolls of a customer’s choosing, this includes creating sex dolls of children whose photographs were supplies by the paedophilic customer.  

The digital enabler is the problem but equally much of the solution. Many of the software giants have been creating AI and algorithms to tackle child abuse imagery. For victims who know their image is being used in this way contacting or an Garda Siochana should see the material removed within days. But this take down capacity is only a tiny segment of the problem. 

Cleaning up the internet where victims are unaware of the abuses, is more complicated. Training AI to detect abuse images runs into ethical problems and AIs today remain notoriously poor at discerning abuse. Even if AIs could be well trained we would then need to address the serious questions of potential mass surveillance and by whom. While AI might assist, the solution lies with the corporations and their regulation. 

The power to make our online world safer and by extension our offline world too, rests almost entirely with the for-profit industries of our online lives, these are the platforms, the social media companies, the search engines, as well as the sexual exploitation industry itself.   

These private, global companies create the opportunities and gateways, they also work hard to create the appetite – in effect, much of their business is building algorithms and AI to groom our appetite towards the objective of increasing their profits. Safety-by-design would have understood how inequality, misogyny and sexual exploitation would be key drivers of their profit margins from the outset and built safety in, instead they are largely patching safety on top of profit-by-design systems.  

There are heroic campaigners working tirelessly in this field, pursuing leverages to force safer online spaces, whether that is campaigning against the banks supporting profiteering from rape on Pornhub or the survivors whose rape videos are being shared on paid platforms, pursuing those individual platforms and companies. They are forcing accountability on unregulated spaces. 

Self-regulation of the online opportunities for harm corporations create, has come largely as an afterthought, often lacklustre. Thus, governments are creating rules and regulation of this space. Ireland has a newly appointed Online Safety Commissioner, Niamh Hodnett, who is soon to be joined by a Commissioner of Digital Services, both part of the new Comisiúin na Méan under the Online Safety and Media Regulation Act 2022. 

The new Irish Media Commissioners will be joining an international community of champions part of whose jobs it will be to ensure that the for-profit global corporations learn that there is no profit in tolerating child exploitation, grooming, misogyny and sexual exploitation. 

Dr Clíona Saidléar, Executive Director, Rape Crisis Network Ireland  

Originally published in Irish Examiner here

CSO Take Step Forward in Deepening Our Understanding of Sexual Violence Crime  

The Central Statistics Office this week published statistics on sexual crime reported by the Gardai from the second half of 2021 onwards that examines the nature of the relationship between the victim and reported suspect for the first time ever. This data proves to be a valuable addition to our knowledge base as the more information we have on patterns of sexual violence the more effectively we can tackle its roots by creating targeted and effective early intervention and prevention programmes. We can further use this data to supplement and deepen our understanding of our own RCNI Statistics collated every year from data supplied by our participating Rape Crisis Centres. RCNI statistics tell the collective story, not only of those survivors who have reported to the Guards, but all who have utilised RCNI rape crisis services. Here we compare the two sets of data and what they tell us about sexual violence today. 

While the CSO found that 63% of survivors reported the incident within one year, RCNI statistics reflect a more complex picture of how survivors report. Our latest data from 2021 shows that approximately 35% of survivors attending RCCs for counselling and support made a formal report to An Garda Siochana and we can trace an increase in the figures reporting to AGS and improvements in survivor’s experience of reporting over the past 17 years of RCNI data collection. This is welcome news and lends weight and credence to this recent data gleaned from the Gardaí. Trust between the survivor and the Gardaí is essential if these figures are to be meaningful.

Another correlation between CSO and RCNI figures that stands out is the relationship between the victim and the perpetrator. The CSO report that 83% of reported suspects of sexual offences are known to the victim. This chimes with RCNI annual statistics that show approximately 90% of perpetrators are known to the survivor and this figure remains approximately consistent in sexual violence against children and adults. Furthermore, the CSO finding that sexual offences against male victims are more likely to be perpetrated by a person in authority or with care responsibilities (13%) than for female victims (2%) backs up RCNI data that finds that 18% of boys and men disclose that the perpetrator was an authority figure. When we break this down further and look at the age of the victim at the time of the sexual violence, we see that boys (under age 18) are more vulnerable to being targeted by authority figures than adult men. This finding reinforces the fact the sexual violence perpetrators are opportunistic and often misuse their positions of power and authority.  

Having a breakdown of the age of a victim at the time they were abused and the victim’s sex is important as both of these variables impact the pattern of sexual violence perpetrated. In RCNI data we see differences in patterns of abuse disclosed by those subjected to sexual violence in childhood and adulthood. Furthermore, we see significant differences between children subjected to sexual violence when under the age of 13 compared to those aged 13-17. The relationship to the perpetrator, location of abuse, nature of abuse and other key indicators differ between all of these age groups.

Sex and gender of the victim are also important indicators in understanding sexual violence and patterns of abuse. Sexual violence is a gendered crime which is predominantly perpetrated against women and children by men. In RCNI data we see that boys and girls under the age of 13 disclose similar patterns of abuse. However, when girls enter teenage years, their vulnerability to abuse increases and they become more vulnerable to more extreme forms of sexual violence and patterns of abuse which are common to adult women. Boys on the other hand become less vulnerable to sexual violence as they age into adulthood.  

For a large number of children who are subjected to sexual violence, the abuse is perpetrated by a family member. In RCNI data we see a further breakdown of this information whereby children under the age of 13 most commonly disclose abuse perpetrated by a family member/relative and those ages 13-17 most commonly disclose that the violence was perpetrated by a friend/acquaintance/neighbour. This change in the relationship to the perpetrator is reflective of the natural lifecycle of the child which often involves them spending more time outside the home and developing a wider social circle as they move into their teens. 

Rape Crisis Centres only need the piece of the story that relates to how we provide services to survivors. However, the interplay between official Garda figures and what survivors tell us in RCCs illuminates the experience of the survivor, clarifies patterns of abuse and may help to point the way to earlier intervention and prevention. So much of a survivor’s experience of sexual violence is mediated and navigated through the agencies they interact with, be it the Gardaí or RCCs, and it is of vital importance that all services and professionals meeting a survivors’ needs are able to join up their knowledge with others. 

Rape Crisis Network Ireland Calls For Action To Aid A Sector in Crisis

On 27 September the Government will publish its 2023 Budget. Rape Crisis Network Ireland is calling for an investment in the Rape Crisis sector so that survivors can access supports they need in a timely, straightforward manner and avail of them in a comforting and nurturing environment. We ask that through a combination of funding and support the Government ensures that survivors are met with a set of supports including specialist, trained and accredited counsellors that have a deep and full understanding of the distress, needs and rights of those who have been subjected to sexual violence.

Right now, Rape Crisis Centres are operating far beyond their capacity and we are gravely concerned for the future of their critical services. Below, we outline four crisis areas which urgently need to be addressed.  


In the last 10 years, RCNI has recorded a 63% increase in appointments provided by RCCs, and a 30% increase in the number of survivors and supporters attending RCCs for counselling and support.*

  • in July 2021 there were 967 survivors on waiting lists for counselling at 16 Rape Crisis Centres
  • 556 of these survivors had been waiting more than one year.**
  • RCNI research identified that survivors found waiting lists to be damaging and off-putting.

SOLUTION: Budget 2023 to provide funding increases to RCCs to meet current demand on services.  


Every Rape Crisis Centre in Ireland has a Helpline, yet none of the Helplines, outside of the 24-hour National Helpline run by Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, receive any state funding.

  • approximately 50,000 contacts are made to RCC Helplines across the country every year – 73% of these are made to local RCC helplines

  • In the last 10 years RCNI has recorded a 100% increase in contacts to Helplines.

SOLUTION: Survivors, supporters, professionals and others contacting RCCs have clearly demonstrated an irrefutable need for Helpline access to their local RCC. This needs to be acknowledged by the State with a budget that will secure fair, survivor centred, geographical access to services. 


Rape Crisis Centres need permanent, safe, and accessible premises in order to provide their services and meet survivor needs. Many Centres rent premises and are therefore at risk within the current property crisis. It is imperative for RCCs to have secure, stable and fit for purpose premises, adequate to meet the increasing demand for services.

SOLUTION: An urgent review of RCC accommodation to be undertaken and a suitable capital budget allocated to this review’s outcomes. 


Sexual Violence counselling is a specialist area of psychotherapy. Evidence demonstrates that generic services are inadequate and may be harmful to survivors. Counsellors working in RCCs are required to have specialist training to work with survivors of sexual violence. A sustained absence of investment in training development over the past decade now means we are reaching a point of workforce crisis in the sector and more and more survivors relying on non-specialist supports who in turn are reaching out to the existing specialists to support their work.

Investment in training development and a complete specialist sexual violence curriculum and accreditation for counsellors and volunteers at every stage of their engagement with survivors is essential so that both counsellors and survivors are provided with the skills, knowledge and techniques to confidently work together towards recovery.

SOLUTION: The skills deficit must be addressed with sustainable training development and support coupled with accreditation.

Exacerbating this situation are retention and recruitment challenges. There is no standard rate of pay and pay and conditions generally compare unfavourably with the public and private sectors.

SOLUTION: A national pay and conditions review must be carried out as a matter of urgency.  

Rape Crisis Centres are a vital response to sexual violence and can be a critical factor in the recovery of survivors. Budget 2023 must reflect their value to the individual and the community.

* Data is from the RCNI database which has been publishing RCC data since 2006. The ten year trend draws on a representative sample of 7 centres. For Rape Crisis statistics over the years click here.

** figures drawn from the RCNI Clinical Innovation Project mapping Summer 2021

RCNI Welcomes Sister Organisation Women’s Room Croatia To Ireland

In the first week of July RCNI was delighted to welcome Maja Mamula, Kristina Mihaljević, Jelena Čaušević, Andrea Domitrović and Svea Kučinić of Women’s Room Croatia (Zenska Soba) for a fleeting three-day visit to Ireland. The purpose of the visit was to give the delegation an overview of the services available in Ireland to survivors of sexual violence. Women’s Room is a Croatian feminist, non-profit, civil society organisation established in 2002. It provides direct services to victims of sexual violence including survivors of sexual violence as weapon of war and aims for the prevention and combating of all sexual violence as well as promotion and protection of sexual rights. The visit was designed to be an exchange of expertise, experience and opinion and to forge deeper connections between members of Ireland’s sexual violence sector and their sister organisations in Central and Eastern Europe.  

On Monday 4 July  Deputy Jennifer Carroll MacNeill welcomed our delegates to Leinster House accompanied by Lisa Marmion of Safe Ireland and Cliona Saidlear of Rape Crisis Network Ireland. There they discussed their respective country’s response to male violence against women, reflected on the Croatian experience of widespread rape and sexual violence visited upon women during the Bosnian War. In particular we focused on the prevention work our partners in Croatia are doing in schools programmes and our own curriculum development here in Ireland. We also shared the different and similar challenges faced in both jurisdictions in resistances to providing access to all children to good sex and sexual violence prevention education.  

 Our delegates were kindly hosted by One in Four on Tuesday when Maeve Lewis gave an overview of the organisation’s vital work in providing professional counselling to adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse, its sex-offender intervention programme and its vision of an Irish society where children are safe from the threat of sexual harm.  Maeve reflecting also on her own time working in Croatia following the war. This was followed by a visit to the Sexual Assault Trauma Unit at the Rotunda Hospital facilitated by Clinical Nurse lead Noelle Farrell.   

Tuesday afternoon saw a joint session led by Clíona Saidléar of RCNI during which we were joined by representatives of Kvinna till Kvinna and its partner organisations from Bosnia and Herzegovina. Kvinna till Kvinna was founded in 1993, when, as a reaction to mass rape in the wars in former Yugoslavia, Swedish women started raising money to support local women’s rights organisations in Bosnia and Herzegovina.  It is estimated that during the war at least 20,000 women fell victim to rapes and other forms of sexual violence. More than twenty years have passed without any redress for most of them and with little access to medical, psychological and financial assistance. Most perpetrators walk free. The discussion centred on best practice, legacy, structural and cultural barriers to realising and implementing the specialist rape crisis response to survivors of sexual violence as required under the Istanbul Convention.  

Delegates from Zenska Soba (Women’s Room) Croatia and Kvinna till Kvinna

The Bosnian women’s movement works to promote peace, dialogue and dealing with the past beyond division lines. It calls for accountability for war crimes and ending violence against women. As the country embarks on constitutional reform, women human rights defenders have united to push for the inclusion of gender perspective into the Constitution. But opposition is fierce: with ethno-nationalist rhetoric on the rise, women’s rights activists are regularly threatened as they challenge the nationalist political agenda of division. The following organisations were represented at the session.  

Center for Women’s Rights (Zenica): Center for Women’s Rights was established in 1996 with the aim to provide legal assistance to women, both face to face and online. They directly assist women survivors/victims of gender-based violence in exercising their rights and access to justice, and work on promoting the rights of victims to fair and equal protection by using evidence-based advocacy. They regularly monitor the criminal justice system response by directly monitoring GBV cases at courts throughout FBiH. 

Lara Foundation (Bijeljina): The Lara Foundation, founded in 1998, runs a safe house in Bijeljina and supports women survivors/victims of gender-based violence with legal aid and psychosocial support. Lara has for years worked to assist victims of trafficking and has also been monitoring and advocating for an improved police response to gender-based violence.  

United Women (Banja Luka): United Women Banja Luka has worked against violence against women since 1996 with supporting victims/survivors as well as advocating for positive changes in laws, policies and implementation.  In 2007, United Women opened a shelter for victims of domestic violence outside Banja Luka. They have an SOS hotline and provide legal aid to women victims. With the support of Kvinna till Kvinna, they advocate for a fair and equal protection and access to justice for women and child victims of violence and monitor the institutional response to gender-based violence. 

Trial International (Track Impunity Always): Trial is a renowned Swiss organisation fighting impunity for war crimes and supporting victims and survivors in their quest for justice. It conducts programs in several countries, including Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), where Trial’s office operates independently. Trial’s work in BiH is, among others, focused at improving the status of survivors of war sexual violence and countering the stigma attached to victims. 

On Wednesday the group visited Ruhama where Jennifer Roche gave a tour of their premises and talked about the work and ethos of supporting women and others being exploited in the sex industry. Lest we left our partners too positive an impression of where Ireland is today we then crossed the river for a viewing of the harrowing Alison Lowry exhibition Addressing Our Hidden Truths at the National Museum of Ireland at Collins Barrack. This exhibition presents a profound piece of commentary on the Tuam Mother and Baby Home revelations and audio testimony including poetry and song from those who experienced the industrial school system and Magdalene Laundries. Dr Sinead Ring from Maynooth University very kindly joined us and gave an overview of the role these institutions have played in our nation formation and right up to today.

The final stop was a tour of the premises of the Divisional Protective Services Unit (DPSU) in Fitzgibbon Street led by inspector Conor Ó’Braonáin. The DPSU was established in 2017 to deal specifically with sexual crime, human trafficking, child abuse and domestic abuse and is now based in a newly opened facility, in a carefully restored building that includes Ireland’s first Crime Victim Support Suite. The Suite includes several specially designed spaces to allow Gardaí to cater for the varied and sometimes complex needs of victims in a compassionate and dignified way. 

It was a pleasure to host a group of women so dedicated to tackling the cause and the aftermath of sexual violence and an honour to learn further of their experiences and perceptions. The trip was of great benefit to both RCNI and, we hope, to our visitors and helped deepen our partnership. Male violence against women knows no boundaries but misogyny takes many forms and manifests differently according to a country’s history, its prejudices and its particular socio-cultural climate and context. We hope that this visit will be the first of many opportunities where women can share their wisdom and understanding and work together to face the challenge of sexual violence and exploitation against women and children.  

RCNI host webinar on Surviving Sexual Violence in War

On Tuesday 7 June, Croatian-based organisation The Women’s Room (Ženska Soba), in collaboration with Rape Crisis Network Ireland, delivered a webinar on ‘Sexual Violence in War’. The Women’s Room is a Croatian feminist, non-profit, civil society organisation established in 2002. It provides direct services to victims of sexual violence including survivors of sexual violence as weapon of war. It aims for the prevention and combating of all sexual violence as well as promotion and protection of sexual rights.

The event was led by Maja Mamula and Marijana Senjak, both of whom are highly experienced in working with survivors of  sexual violence in war, and was of interest to those who work in frontline services with survivors, particularly counsellors and psychotherapists. The webinar covered topics such as:  

  • Myths and facts about sexual violence in war 
  • Women’s bodies as a battlefield 
  • Phenomenological aspects of war rape. Presentation available for download here
  • Surviving sexual violence in war. Presentation available for download here


Excerpt from Al-Jazeera news programme Everywoman featuring a piece on Marijana Senjak by Fiona Lloyd-Davies of Studio 9 Films.

Common language is the keystone 

 Children experience sexual violence in ways that are often difficult for us to see and they speak about the harm done to them in ways that may not resonate with us.  When a child discloses their experience of sexual violence they may do so in small parts or in one disclosure, with words or with behaviour, to one adult or to many. Our task as adults, professionals and agencies is to ensure that the piece they tell us counts towards the whole story. To do that we have to speak a common language. 

Our collective understanding of a child’s journey currently can fall between the cracks as parents, schools, GPs, clubs and other services working with children, the family or the community are engaged for a range of reasons and not primarily focused on or specializing in sexual violence. All of these services do their best to understand, to support and to protect the child but between all these people it is not surprising that the child’s voice may falter and their story become fragmented and unheard.   

All of these adults are essential in protecting the child, but they each serve the child’s best interests in different ways and therefore their focus is unique to that service. But if a child’s experience is revealed in fragments, then we need to ensure that we can put those fragments together to understand the full picture. We do that by putting in place common language to underpin robust and comparable data collection so that our overlapping knowledge can form a whole, locally, nationally and internationally and we can meet our legal and ethical obligations. 

Currently the many points of contact a child may have, where valuable parts of their experience are told, are using various terminology and collecting different data. For example, of the services meeting the needs of child victims of sexual violence, 12 of our 16 databases do not record sexual harassment of a child and 5 out of the 16 do not use the rape of a child. This does not serve the best interests of the child. RCNI, with funding from the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, invited all these NGO and statutory stakeholders to come together to share our current data collection points and agree the basic building blocks of how we record what we know from the children we encounter.  

Ireland is a signatory of the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (Istanbul Convention). The Istanbul Convention recognises the need for data collection to be fit to contribute – not just to national – but regional and international monitoring. All signatories are legally obliged to report specific information about sexual violence; Ireland does not do this, a fact that GREVIO, the Council of Europe monitoring body who will be shortly be evaluating our performance on implementing the Istanbul Convention is sure to take note of.   

There are positive indications that comprehensive, reliable and comparable is increasingly recognised as an essential driver of policy development and a vital element in improving interagency pathways.  The Minister for Justice recently presented its Third National Strategy on DSGBV for public consultation recommending ‘developing enhanced coordination of data collection strategies’.   

In Ireland our leaders, policy-makers and the general public are asking what we can do to cherish and protect those who have experienced Domestic, Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (DSGBV).   An important part of the answer is that we need to collect better data that gives the survivor a voice – a safe and anonymised voice amongst the thousands of survivors, in whose combined stories we can find patterns that can inform policy and cultural change. It should be noted that the first step in collecting such data is that it does no harm, this means that the child’s interests and privacy is steadfastly protected so that they can access services freely and without fear.  

Last month RCNI launched Breaking the Silence: Terminology Guidelines for Data Collection on Sexual Violence Against Children, the culmination of a collaboration with 28 organisations working with children who were subjected to sexual violence. Most collect data already. The finished report includes shared terms and definitions for collecting information on sexual violence against children in Ireland which comply with Ireland’s international legal obligations.  

So much of a child’s experience of sexual violence is mediated and navigated through the adults around them. It is important that all services and professionals meeting a child’s needs are able to join up their knowledge with others’, especially when our children cannot and it is paramount that the voice of these survivors informs and is reflected in policy. To do this we must develop a common language. 


‘Breaking the Silence’ is free to download here.


Reflections on 2021

As we see out 2021, I want to thank everyone who has made the journey with us. It has been another busy, affirming and in places tumultuous year. It is a year marked by contrasts; the uncertainty of Covid alongside the solidifying of partnerships and relationships; the inertia surrounding our lives due to the pandemic against the unprecedented change agenda in reforming how we support the victim’s journey through the criminal justice system; the passivity of being subject to a virus against the big and ambitious plans being formulated for the future; the frailty and the resilience of our sector and all who work and volunteer within it, the victims surviving.

None of our work is possible without the engagement and support of survivors, the member Rape Crisis Centres, other NGOs partners and collaborators, our board and funders – thank you to all of you.

The year started with the consultation into the Government Audit into the infrastructure and response across the whole of government to Domestice, Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (DSGBV). The third national strategy consultation commenced shortly into 2021 and the O’Malley review implementation plan led by the Department of Justice – ‘Supporting a Victims Journey’ – was very active with three subcommittees and a raft of projects focused on implementation.

Along with engaging in these three big pieces of government led transformative work the RCNI worked with a range of partners throughout 2021 to create the conditions for change. RCNI chaired the Children Living with Domestic and Sexual Violence NGO coalition working to map the child victim’s journey and advocate on their behalf. We initiated the What Works project with sexual violence NGOs and statutory partners to identify shared data points to understand and track sexual violence against children. We continued our collaboration with counselling partners in the Sector Bodies group to advocate for adult survivor rights in the processing of mandatory reporting, chaired by our colleague Maeve Lewis in One in Four. We were part of the Children Rights Alliance led joint campaign to ensure the best outcomes for the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill and continued to work with our partners in the Victims Rights Alliance.

Other critical legislative change this year also included the Criminal Procedures Act, the Sex Offenders Bill and the Equalities Act review. We also engaged in a large-scale research project with survivors and counsellors on their experiences and needs in relation to remote and blended counselling. Trauma informed training across the professions of engaged in delivering justice has also been a significant feature of the past year. Our longstanding commitment to education and prevention remained through work across the schools curriculum, the Higher Education Institutes, HSE sexual health work and the Department of Justice-led national DSGBV campaigns.

We have remained committed in 2021 to supporting our partners across Europe. Ireland is one of the few countries in the EU that has long-standing and standalone specialisation in sexual violence responses and so under the Council of Europe’s Istanbul Convention which most countries are now implementing our insights are in demand. As board member of the European Women’s Network against Sexual Violence, I was contracted as a specialist consultant to a UNWomen project in the Western Balkans and Turkey. This work included a study day and we are grateful for the participation of our statutory and SATU partners in sharing Ireland’s 360 experience of responding to sexual violence as part of this project. The project culminated in a guidance document on the ‘how to’ of sexual violence response and we participated in dissemination, promotion and training to rape crisis start-ups in other countries. We continue to act as expert advisors to the European Network WAVE as it builds its language around sexual violence specialisation and continue to engage in the learning and collaborative network with our partners across the UK and Ireland.

The core of our work remains the everyday work with survivors both within the RCNI team and through the rape crisis centres who own and govern the RCNI. Significantly increased networking has been an ongoing part of our Covid response, with shared learning, mutual support, policy and guidance development, upskilling and data gathering featuring throughout.

The Storm and Stress research from our colleague Michelle Walsh launched in June made a big impact as this research filled a critical gap in our evidence around adolescent’s experiences of sexual harassment and violence. The need for this evidence is clear in how frequently these statistics have been quoted since we published them, including by the Ombudsman for Children, the Rapporteur and a judge in a sentencing in a sexual violence case.

2022 promises to be a busy year again for us with large projects from this year continuing into 2022 and their outputs being launched and finalised. This includes the research from the Clinical Innovation Project, funded by Rethink Ireland, which saw 1000 survivors and 500 counsellors participating in our research. RCNI will continue collaborating in the development of a suite of training materials arising from this learning. Alongside this, we will be making the time for the all-important ‘housekeeping’ work of a renewal of our strategic direction, governance, website and data collection infrastructure as well as imagining ourselves into the opportunities and challenges presented by the blended world of on and offline working and living, and the commitment and energy to creating change that exists all round us at present.

Dr Cliona Saidlear
Executive Director, RCNI