We must recognise how pornography affects young women

For the majority, men’s violence against women does not disturb their capacity to ‘realise their own potential’. But for women, we bear it and we become mentally unwell under its burden, writes Clíona Saidléar

The second ‘My World Survey’ into child and youth mental health shows us that there is not just one world — there are many worlds for our young people.

But we are largely only talking about one of them, the gender-neutral one.

This report of youth mental health organisation Jigsaw, by Prof Barbara Dooley and her research team in UCD’s Psychology department, was launched last week.

This report provides a rich seam of evidence that is painstakingly sex- disaggregated and indeed other intersectional traits that might give you a different experience of the world, because the world treats you differently.

Some of these differences are so stark it is questionable whether it is correct to subsume these differences under the generic heading ‘young people’ — it is certainly not helpful.

From our standpoint, the starkest statistic in this report is about the people aged 18-25, who consume pornography weekly. Some 17% of females in the survey did so weekly and 73% of the males.

But under that disparity is the even more stark evidence of impact.

The study found young women who consume pornography in this manner “were more likely to be in the very severe category of depression”, whereas no such pattern was visible for their male counterparts.

For RCNI, this finding should not surprise us. After all, pornography is, in fact, predominantly sexualised images of men being sexually violent and degrading towards women for pleasure. Can we be surprised that women frequently exposed to this are depressed?

It is possible that the young women did not become severely depressed through their frequent viewing of relentless misogyny, as cause and effect are not distinguished in this statistic. A possibility is that the young women were already severely depressed before starting a habit that their mentally-well counterparts resisted.

This is an even more damning explanation for this statistic.

Unfortunately, it also means that young men choose to consume this weekly dose of misogyny without any measurable significant mental ill-health to begin with and without the significant negative impact on their mental wellbeing.

While both females and males who consumed pornography regularly have lowered body-esteem, the sex-based disparities remain stacked in one direction. The logical conclusion is that young men’s world view and prospects are relatively undisturbed by this exposure to pornography. Their world is already one where violent misogyny is normal.

And it is. The same survey found that 1 in 4 women (aged 18-25) reported being raped.

Over half (56%) of young women reported that they had been touched against their will or without their consent, with 25% of the women reporting being forced or pressured to have sex, or in other words rape, as against 23% and 10% of men respectively. The survey does not tell us what sex the person perpetrating the non-consensual touching or sex was.

The women who experienced non-consensual sexual touching were also more likely to be in the very severe range of depression or anxiety. The men were not.

Throughout this report we see both young boys and girls mental health indicators plummeting as they move through puberty into adulthood, but significantly more so for girls on almost every count including suicide attempts, self-harm, body-esteem, and perceived personal competency.

The WHO defines mental wellbeing as “a state of well-being in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community”.

When your ‘normal stresses of life’ include a one in four chance of being raped, is anxiety, low self-esteem, and severe depression not a normal response?

For young men, it was only for the 10% of young men who reported rape that there was a correlation with mental ill-health, with 24% being in the severe range of anxiety.

For women who were raped, the corresponding number experiencing severe anxiety was 40%.

For the 75% of women who had not been raped, 30% experience a severe range of anxiety nonetheless (11% for men) — representing the white noise of anxiety that is part of the ordinary and normal, life-limiting experience of being female in this world.

For boys and young men, we might conclude that for the majority, men’s violence against women does not disturb their world view or their capacity to ‘realise their own potential’ and make meaningful “contributions to their community”.

For girls and women, we bear it and we become mentally unwell under its burden.

And if we do not sex-disaggregate the data and discussion, we will not see this and we will be passive when it comes to making a change.

Clíona Saidléar PhD, Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RCNI) executive director.


Rate my rape list: ‘I’m angry at the silence of the men of Ireland’

In the wake of the ‘rate my rape’ list on a school wall, Dr Cliona Saidlear says we have to talk about rape culture in Ireland.

I’M ANGRY. I’VE been a professional working on sexual violence almost continuously since I graduated with a PhD on war. I have learned not to get angry.

Instead, I have learned to breathe. One breath, another, until my reactions to yet another instance of misogyny, abuse and violence are fanned into a quiet, infinitesimally slow burning rage. A rage so still that unless you look very closely you won’t even notice.

I pass for reasonable, most of the time – but today I’m angry.

A list of names

We’ve discovered that a boy, maybe more than one, wrote a list of girls’ names on the wall of a toilet cubicle in the boys’ bathrooms in their school and asked other boys which girl they were going to rape. That boy or other boys (how many?), laid a neat row of ticks beside the chosen girls’ names.

One boy, as the list of ticks grew, it is said informed the girl at the top of the list that she should be pleased she had the most ‘likes’. As teenage popularity contests go this seems like a dystopia that is hard to beat.

Why? Some will ask what we should do to fix it? Some will shrug because this is just the way it is. Boys will be boys.


The day before an elder statesman of rugby had gone on publicly funded radio to tell us that what the lads, the ones in the Belfast trial, said on Whatsapp and what they got up to that now infamous night was just ‘silliness’.

For many of us listening it was a startling insight into a world of entitlement we had almost forgotten existed.

The school has responded immediately and they appear to have done a good job. They have engaged the whole of the school, including the parents, mobilised in supporting all the children involved and addressing the unacceptability of this attitude and behaviour.

But this was after the fact and they had no blueprint for dealing with this normalising of misogynist violence.

I’m angry, but not with those boys. I’m angry at all the messages boys receive all their lives, through our culture and the words, omissions, silence or examples set for them, the stories they hear, the men they watch on television, the pornography they consume that tells them that how to be men is by hurting women.

Silence of good men

I’m also angry at the relative silence (with a few exceptions) of the famous, great and good men of Ireland. It’s hard to understand this silence. Why isn’t this their business?

We can change this. We must. We can choose to look critically at how we are as men and women and other, at what we expect of ourselves and each other. We can transform to create a kinder, more respectful society for all, but only if we engage honestly and compassionately and not retreat into our rage and defensive indignation.

It’s time to acknowledge rape culture so that we can deal with it proactively. Rape is everyone’s business. Our silence won’t change this culture. But our engagement and our actions will.

We owe it to our boys and our girls.

Dr Cliona Saidlear is Executive Director of the Rape Crisis Network Ireland.



HIQA Report reveals Tusla dysfunction in responding to reports of risks of sexual violence to children

Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RCNI) welcoming the HIQA report on Tusla’s handling of retrospective reporting supported Minister Zappone’s plan for immediate structures to action the recommendations and calls for child-centred and survivor-centred action.

Clíona Saidléar, RCNI Executive Director said, ‘what survivors of past sexual violence often want is to know that no child will be harmed by the person who committed these crimes against themselves. It is reassuring and empowering to know that there is an agency and a set of professionals who are ensuring that what you, the survivor, knows is making a difference. This child protection is the intention of retrospective reporting and as survivors have been telling us, HIQA now confirms, it is not consistency happening.

For those survivors who have given their story to Tusla, it is heart-breaking. The catastrophic lack of social workers in Tusla, the absence of specialisation for social workers in sexual violence and the poor fit between a social worker’s responsibility and the skills required to handle retrospective reporting all adds up to deliver failure to survivors of sexual violence and to children.

It is also clear that the legislative basis to support Tusla’s work in child protection under the Child Care Act is flawed. What is described in the HIQA report is as much an inevitable outcome of poor laws as it is of lack of resources and inappropriate practice. RCNI are calling on government:

  • to prioritise the reform of the Child Care Act 1991 which is currently under review,
  • to set up a multiagency guidance committee to develop shared practice guidance across relevant professionals and agencies such as exists for SATUs,
  • to redouble efforts to develop co-location of child protection responses and to examine the development of stand-alone retrospective reporting child protection co-location responses,
  • To require adequate sexual violence training for all general social workers and require specialisation for those working in this area,
  • To ensure appropriate oversight and clinical governance of any outsourcing of child protection assessments,
  • To examine the location of adult sexual violence responses within child protection services.

For information:
Clíona Saidléar
087 2196447

The Eighth Amendment: Letter printed in the Irish Times 17th May 2018

Dear Sir,

Many female survivors of sexual violence talk to us about how difficult all matter to do with their fertility, sexual and reproductive health are for them because of their experience of rape. This can be a lifelong struggle for women following the trauma of sexual violence. Making this bearable for survivor’s starts by ensuring that everything that happens to their bodies is with their informed and full consent.

In Rape Crisis we believe everyone has a role in supporting survivors to restore their sense that they matter and that their yes matters. But the 8th amendment says the opposite. It says that a woman’s consent about what happens to her body is conditional.

The hard cases of the approximately 5% of fertile aged girls and women who are pregnant after rape are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the impact of the 8th on survivors and all women and girls.

The truth is the 8th amendment, whether a survivor of rape is pregnant or not, whether they choose to terminate or continue with the pregnancy, codifies a culture of disregarding women’s consent over their bodies. Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RCNI) are calling for a Yes vote, not only to ensure those pregnant after rape can be supported at home and without stigma, but also so that our Constitution unambiguously upholds the dignity and rights of women, many of whom will be survivors of sexual violence.

Dr Clíona Saidléar
RCNI Executive Director

Rape survivors need the law on their side

The principle that should inform all support for a rape survivor is that nothing after the crime, especially to their bodies, happens without their consent. When a survivor is pregnant after rape, the same principle stands.

The polls consistently show that the majority of Irish people agree that rape survivors need compassionate and non-judgmental access to abortion. This cannot happen unless this country repeals the Eighth Amendment.

In the Rape Crisis Network we know that survivors make every choice imaginable regarding their pregnancy. Their emotions and reasoning are as varied as each and every rape survivor is in their individual contexts.

We want these people to be given judgment-free access to healthcare professionals who can ensure that they have the necessary information. Abortion will by no means be every survivor’s choice.

Our hope is that they will be surrounded by their loved ones who can support them in this traumatic time. The situation under the Eighth, in which a rape survivor may make decisions in isolation, without adequate information, in ways that are unsafe and unsupported, are the opposite of the type of response we want to offer.

Currently, if a rape survivor chooses to have an abortion she will either, illegally and with no medical support, order abortion pills online and take them, or travel abroad. This secretive and in itself potentially traumatising process will almost certainly mean that the survivor will be separated from their families and friends as well as from their trusted healthcare providers.

The government has said that if the Eighth Amendment is repealed it will seek to legislate for wider access to abortion. There will be no “rape clause”. Instead there will be abortion on request up to 12 weeks.

Asking survivors to prove the rape happened in order for them to have access to abortion is not workable. It is notoriously hard to prove rape in the courts and the process can take years. Neither is there any way to medically prove rape.

Any attempt to make a survivor prove that they were raped will only punish, shame and fail them. No “rape testing” regime will deliver what the majority of Irish people want.

If the Eighth Amendment is repealed a 12-week abortion-on-request law is the only viable way to provide access to the procedure for survivors of rape. It will also be a powerful message from us, to all these survivors, that we trust them.

Clíona Saidléar is executive director of Rape Crisis Network Ireland

Published in The Times on 3rd of May 2018

RCNI call for clarity on child sexual violence issues

RCNI are concerned at the series of issues in child protection coming to light as matters relating to Scouting Ireland and child protection investigations are being uncovered and understood.

From the report in the Irish Times on the 24th of April 2018, outlining the steps taken by the three agencies with regards a serious child protection matter, we need to ask a number of questions.

Clíona Saidléar, RCNI Executive Director said, ‘We call on Minister Zappone to clarify what actions are expected of those with responsibility for child safety and wellbeing, upon a determination by Tusla of ‘unfounded’ concerning an allegation of child sexual abuse?

‘Scouting Ireland tell us that, ‘on the basis’ of the Tusla written notification to them that they had determined the child sexual abuse allegation was ‘unfounded’, reinstated a person who was still under Garda investigation. It is deeply concerning that our child protection agency could have been understood to have ‘cleared’ someone still under investigation by an Garda Siochána.

‘What liaison is there between the Gardaí and Tusla when Tusla make such a determination? Did the Tusla letter to Scouting Ireland notify the organisation that a criminal investigation process was separate and possibly ongoing? Did they indicate that an ‘unfounded’ determination was not the same as saying that they had assessed or even ‘cleared’ the person in question?

‘As organisations with responsibility for the safety and wellbeing of children we need to have clarity on what branch of the state we defer to on these matter, if at all.’

The statistics – How many cases are deemed ‘unfounded’?

In a response to a journalists’ recent FoI, Tusla stated that they do not collate their rate of founded/unfounded determinations. A number of Oireachtas members have asked Tusla for their numbers on founded/unfounded determinations. These answers have been difficult to decipher but if we understand the latest response to a parliamentary question properly, Tusla makes ‘referrals’ in, on average, only 5% of adult historical reports regarding those who may continue to pose a risk to children. What proportion of child cases are deemed ‘unfounded’ is still not a figure that would appear to be available to the Oireachtas or the public.

Link to latest PQ see 547 & 548 http://oireachtasdebates.oireachtas.ie/debates%20authoring/debateswebpack.nsf/takes/dail2018032700082?opendocument#WRZ04700

For more information

Clíona Saidléar, 087 2196447

24th April 2018

RCNI appalled by incident of ‘rape list’ in school toilets and call for urgent action

Today it was revealed that a school in Cork found a list of girls’ names written on the wall of the boy’s toilets with an invitation to vote with ticks for the one that would then be subjected to rape. The school reacted promptly but this incident leaves many questions. RCNI hope both those directly involved and the whole school community are receiving the support and appropriate response they need.

Clíona Saidléar, Executive Director of RCNI said, ‘the threat to rape a child is such a serious matter and should be considered by the Gardaí and an investigation opened if appropriate. This story comes a day after rugby pundit Willie John McBride on an RTE radio programme described sexist, disrespectful and violent behaviour by male sports stars as mere silliness for which no young man should be held accountable. Is it any wonder our young boys think threats to rape are a joke?

‘RCNI acknowledge that the Minister for Education and Skills Minister Bruton has announced a review of the sex education curriculum in all schools, ensuring consent education is available. This is clearly urgent and important.

‘We would also urge him to ensure schools and parents can no longer exempt their children from this right to be informed. The Provision of Objective Sex Education Bill 2018 to be debated on the 18th of April in the Dáil seeks to do that.

‘The school in question appear to have responded promptly and are proactively engaging with the whole school community but it must be acknowledged they do so in a vacuum. It may be unfair to judge this schools’ response to this crisis as no national policy or guidance exists to deal with this situation. RCNI have been advocating for a safe to learn strategy since 2013 when the Action Plan on Bullying excluded sexual harassment from its area of concern. There is no blue print for this school to follow. We would urge the Minister to address this gap in school supports urgently, both in our duty to provide care and a safe learning environment and as a matter of employment rights of the staff.’

Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RCNI) Press release
12th April 2018

For information
Clíona Saidléar 087 2196447

Oral presentation: Meeting Survivors of Sexual and Domestic Violence’s needs


The scale of intervention needed to address gender based violence in Ireland is not reflected in resourcing. Domestic Violence alone (not including sexual violence) has been estimated to cost the Irish state €2.2bn annually or 1.16% of 2014 GDP. In 2014 the government provided €20m of funding to domestic and sexual violence services which is only 0.3% of the annual government expenditure.

Eight years of austerity has seen an average of 20% and 13% cuts, to existing funding across sexual and domestic violence NGOs respectively against a background of increased demand. The sexual and domestic coalition bodies, RCNI and SAFE Ireland, were cut by 70% and 49% in the same period.

In 2009 7,512 women received support from a DV service, this figure grew to 9,500 in 2014. Waiting lists for rape crisis counselling are between 2 and 12 months and by our calculations and according to the requirements set forth by the Istanbul Convention and the Council of Europe Ireland’s has only 31% of the recommended minimum shelter provision. (See note 1). In 2015 there were 4,796 unmet requests for emergency accommodation1, women and children were turned away from refuges because there simply was no space.

In 2016 the budget increased by just €200,000. The 2017 additional budget for the national planning agency Tusla of €37m has not been allocated yet and there is no information yet available about how much of that increase will find its way to DSGBV services which currently are allocated just 3% of the Tusla overall budget.

We recommend:

  1. Allocate an additional €31 million annually (from 2017) to address immediate gaps in our struggling services, from the Gardaí to specialist domestic and sexual violence services to the provision of safe housing.
  2. Increase the emergency accommodation capacity of domestic violence services by 10% or by 14 family units every year for the next five years.
  3. The allocation of budgeting must become transparent through a national development plan by Tusla which is public and transparent to ensure accountable and equitable access to services.

However, the underfunding of services deals only with a symptom and not the cause.

1. SAFE Ireland National Domestic Violence Service Statistics Report 2015 is yet to be published.

RCNI submission to JOCJDE on Victims of Crime July 2015

RCNI Submission to JOCJDE on Victims of Crime GS July 2015

Letter: Consent Education to prevent sexual violence

Consent Education to prevent sexual violence

We welcome Trinity College Student Union’s initiative to propose mandatory consent classes to first year students. There is well developed evidence behind this initiative which recognises that consent education is critical to preventing sexual violence.

Working with the Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RCNI), USI first made the inclusion of consent mainstream across it sexual health activities in 2013. That same year USI with the support of Cosc developed and undertook the first quantitative research of sexual violence experiences on campus (the ‘Say it’ report ) while RCNI commissioned the School of Psychology NUIG to undertake qualitative research of 3rd level students resulting in a report entitled, ‘Young People, Alcohol and Sex: What’s consent got to do with it?’.

Dr Padraig MacNeela at NUIG extended this work to include large surveys on student experiences of unwanted sexual contact and consent. Based on the research findings he and his team developed the Smart Consent initiative in 2015 – consisting of theory- and evidence-driven workshops and other engagement strategies. Working in collaboration with USI, Student Unions, Student Services, RCNI and a number of the third level institutions, notably UCC, this group have recently received a Research for Policy and Society grant from the Irish Research Council and the HSE Sexual Health and Crisis Pregnancy Programme to study the implementation of the Smart Consent workshop approach.

Meanwhile an RCNI collaboration of Rape Crisis Centres reviewed long standing education practice. One of those leading centres, Kerry Rape and Sexual Abuse centre went on to work with the HSE and the local 3rd level Tralee IT and the Students Union to set up an interagency partnership.  Under that initiative the KRSAC delivered training to three of the IT’s schools, nursing, social studies and health promotion, who in turn trained up students who then delivered peer led workshops to all incoming students in those schools last year.

Influenced by these activities a range of doctoral and post-doctoral research projects on sexual activity, culture and consent are now underway across a number of universities. The various consent workshops continue to be rolled out and the critical conversations across campuses and about how we run and support programmes, how we evaluate them and how the target audience accesses them, continue.

In the research young people themselves identified how unprepared they felt for the complexity of negotiating sexual activity and they strongly recommended consent workshops be delivered at school age. Much work is being undertaken to address this critical gap. RCNI have a 5 year collaboration with Foróige to provide an integrated consent and sex and the law training to young people 12- 24 and has recently developed consent modules for inclusion in the B4uDecide.ie Relationship and Sexual Education resource materials. The Be4uDecide.ie resource materials are being revised by the HSE Sexual Health and Crisis Pregnancy Programme as an action under the National Sexual Health Strategy 2015-2020. The 2nd National Strategy on Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based violence aims to develop relevant education programmes within Youth Reach with the Department of Education and Skills.

TCD SU is to be commended for taking up this challenge and we look with interest at their innovation in making the workshops compulsory.


Clíona Saidléar, PhD

Executive Director

Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RCNI)

Carmichael House, North Brunswick St., Dublin 7