RCNI Event – Sexual Violence: The State we’re in – June 9th, RIA, Dublin

Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RCNI) cordially invite you to the presentation and launch of

 Sexual Violence: The State we’re in

The RCNI National Rape Crisis Statistics Report 2014 and 

analysis of State capacity to progressively respond to sexual violence

 

RCNI’s unique data and knowledge information system, which is used in the collection of information from survivors attending RCCs in Ireland, is critical to understanding sexual violence. It provides a clear picture of the characteristics of sexual violence experienced by service users in Ireland and the different vulnerabilities they experience. This may be last year the RCNI can present this powerful evidence base from survivors of sexual violence, as funding has been removed by government.

 

Difficult questions about the future of the sector will also be addressed and analysed.

The event will take place at 10am on Tuesday, June 9th 2015

Venue: Royal Irish Academy, 19 Dawson Street, Dublin 2.

 

Please feel free to circulate this event with colleagues and other interested parties.

 

Please rsvp: comms@rcni.ie

This event is free of charge.

RCNI Invite – National Statistics Report 2014 Launch – 9 June 2015

 

RCNI New Fund it Campaign is Now Live! Help us make history.

RCNI is delighted to announce that our first Fund it campaign is now live.

Rape Crisis Network Ireland turns 30 this year and to celebrate this milestone we would like to create a comprehensive audio and video account of our history. We want to capture the story of how and why the RCNI came to be what it is today – the moments of elation, defeat, frustration, victory and all the bits in-between. We would like to make this account of our past and present as great as possible but to do so we need your help, please consider donating to our Fund it campaign to help us make this goal a reality.

 

For more information on this project and to find out how you can be a part of it please go to:
http://fundit.ie/project/telling-rape-crisis-irelands-story

 

Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RCNI) is 30 years old and we’d like to celebrate this by reflecting back in order to look forward. To do this we’d like to create audio and video accounts of our history paying tribute to the huge impact, contribution and legacy that Rape Crisis Centres throughout Ireland created when they began working together in 1985 to create our charity organisation. RCNI and Rape Crisis Centres have prompted huge social, political and cultural changes in Ireland, which have positively impacted survivors’ experiences, and attitudes and awareness of sexual violence.

We want to capture the stories of how and why it all happened and came to be what it is today – the moments of elation, defeat, frustration, victory and all the bits in-between. We’d like to make this account of our past and present as personalised as possible as often the richness of history, and especially women’s history, comes from the micro-narratives and accounts. This will involve speaking with the women who had the shared vision of coordinating Rape Crisis Centre responses through the creation of RCNI, and with the many who continue to work within and sustain the movement.

The audio and video pieces we aim to create will really bring the story to life by demonstrating the huge personal commitment and journey made by those involved. Most importantly, this is about preparation for the next step, we are on the cusp of a whole of society and government engagement in challenging the prevalence of sexual violence in Ireland.

Our chosen videographer is Maura Cunningham. She has worked in broadcast and web production for 10 years and her experience includes projects with various Youth Groups and organisations such as the Samaritans, VSI and the Department of Education.

We want to collate this story now while we have the opportunity as many of the original founders of RCNI are still working in the sector. We want to write our story so far, so that we can move with purpose into this crucial next phase of realising the movement’s vision towards ending sexual violence.

RCNI Information Seminar: Sexual Offences – What’s new?

Sexual Offences – What’s New?

RCNI are to hold an information seminar on selected topics from the General Scheme of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill, which will take place on Thursday, April 23rd 2015, from 10.00 to 13.15 at Buswells Hotel, Dublin 2

Expert Speakers will cover:

–         Grooming and other new sexual offences against children;

–         Child Pornography Offences;

–         Sex Offenders: Risk Assessment and Risk Management;

–         Special Measures – new Provisions

 

Timetable:

09.45:    Registration

10.00:    Welcome and Introduction from RCNI Director, Dr Clíona Saidléar

10.15:    Ombudsman for Children, Dr Niall Muldoon: Child Pornography Offences/Grooming, Q&A

11.00:    BREAK tea/coffee

11.30:    Inspector Michael Lynch (TBC), AGS: Sex Offenders – Risk Assessment/Risk Management, Q&A

12.00:    Dr Conor Hanly, NUI Galway School of Law: Special Measures, Q&A

12.30:    Plenary Discussion on all Presentations

12.45:    RCNI LPD: What’s Missing: A Positive Definition of Consent

13.00:    Close from RCNI Chairperson, Anne Scully

 

Please be advised a waiting list is now in operation for this event.

Public information seminar on the General Scheme of the forthcoming Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill 2015

On April 23rd Rape Crisis Network Ireland are holding an event:

A public information seminar on the General Scheme of the forthcoming Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill 2015

The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill is an extensive and ambitious piece of legislation. If you are working in areas of crime, victim support, sex offender management and child protection you may want to know more about what is promised in this legislation as it makes its journey into law. Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RCNI) have put together an expert panel to help inform you about key aspects of the Bill.

Speakers will include:

Special Rapporteur on Child Protection, Dr Geoffrey Shannon
Dr Conor Hanly, NUIG School of Law
Ombudsman for Children, Dr Niall Muldoon
A representative from An Garda Síochána

The seminar will take place on Thursday, April 23rd at 10am.
Venue: Buswells Hotel, 23 Molesworth Street, Dublin 2.

 

Places are limited, please rsvp: comms@rcni.ie

Feel free to circulate this event.

 

Invite to RCNI Seminar on forthcoming Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill 2015 - April 23

Out of Control Shaming: an RCNI reply to criticism of our call for victim blaming ad to be removed

For Shame

Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RCNI) made a public statement about the messaging in a Stop Out-of-Control Drinking campaign’s rolemodels ad, which we found shocking and unhelpful in terms of issues around sexual violence. Since then those opposing our viewpoint have not only said we are mistaken in our interpretation of the messaging, that what we saw was not what we should have seen, but indeed despite the campaign’s call for a debate that us raising questions about the messaging was unworthy and somehow damaging to ourselves.

What we saw was an ad portraying a young woman who has returned home from a night out drinking. She is depicted as visibly distressed – something bad happened to her. In isolation that bad thing could be anything. But add the tag line containing the words ‘following’ and ‘footsteps’, and it begins to tap into girls’ and women’s fears of our vulnerability to assault while walking home, drunk and alone, late at night giving an inference of sexual assault. Add the message about ‘consequences’ and ‘role modeling’ and you have an inference of victim-blaming.

As one of the leading specialist bodies on sexual violence in Ireland with an expertise of both how sexual violence is perpetrated and on whom as well as how sexual violence is explained, understood and hidden in our culture, this was what we saw. Having seen that message which we know to be unhelpful and damaging we put out a public statement. The Board of Out of Control responded by saying we should be ashamed of ourselves.

At the time the Board of Stop Out-of-Control Drinking accused me as spokesperson for Rape Crisis Network of ‘wildly’ misunderstanding, making a ‘series of completely inaccurate claims’ and amongst other things, of making ‘entirely unworthy assertions’ – shame on me! Many other commentators weighed in, including Matt Cooper on these pages, echoing the tone of paternalistic censure of the campaign Board and asserting their interpretation of the ad which is at odds with the RCNI’s. The Board also said they would continue to run the ad and the campaign.

Shame is a theme that runs through the ad campaign which we objected to and is also a strong theme in sexual violence. Shame is a powerful and visceral personal feeling which can be used to make people look anew at their behavior. Therefore it can be seen as a useful tool in creating cultural change towards preventing alcohol harm or sexual violence, both of which necessitates naming uncomfortable truths. But naming uncomfortable truths about alcohol harm by promoting shaming and threatening tropes about young women’s vulnerability to sexual violence is not justifiable because the end result of shaming rape survivors is silence and added trauma.

Another way to look at shame is that it helps maintain social order. It is something that those who are outsiders, discriminated against or are in some way different or disadvantaged are often targeted with. Shame for being unemployed, being gay, for being poor, for having different needs because of being differently abled, shame for being Muslim, for being old, shame for being a teenage mother, a ‘working mother’, an addict, a migrant, a victim!

Shame tells us our place in the world or more importantly it tells us when our presence, our actions, choices or our misfortunes are unsettling or burdensome to the status quo. Shame helps keeps us all in our place. Those who feel least shame tend to be the privileged who aren’t generally targeted for lessons in silencing. By extension they are likely to be the last to see or understand the impact of others’ shaming, they simply don’t have the training.

In our culture it is unfortunately commonplace to ascribe shame to victims of sexual violence, and many survivors struggle with those internalized feelings. We often hear survivors’ choices and actions, particularly their choice not to disclose, being described as motivated by shame. This is both disrespectful and underhanded as it makes disclosure all about survivors’ responsibilities and choices and nothing about the context within which they find themselves over which society as a whole has control and responsibility.

The shame we heap on survivors helps us avoid our responsibility to make change happen to make it safer and easier for survivors to break their silence. For if the problem is survivors’ shame then the cure is survivor ‘treatment’ sometimes combined with pressure to ‘do the right thing’. Thus we avoid asking hard questions about garda resourcing, practice and specialization, about our laws and our courts, about our prison and rehabilitation systems, about our risk assessment and monitoring regimes. And for all of us it helps us avoid the questions about how we respond to a loved one or someone in our community disclosing, because each disclosure challenges us to do the right thing and doing the right thing can come with costs.

We also very commonly hear victims’ choices in the immediate run up to being targeted for assault as cause for shame and blame; why did she choose that route home, why did she go home with him, why did she wear such a revealing dress on a Thursday and yes, easily the most popular one in Ireland, why did she get herself so drunk? These shaming questions makes it at least in part her fault and therefore the perpetrator is at least partly off the hook and so are we. This blaming silences victims.

It is vital that we challenge that shaming and silencing of survivors of sexual violence and it is the RCNI’s role to do so.

We challenged the shaming of women and particularly young women made vulnerable by alcohol consumption that was being activated in the Rolemodels ads. The ad depicting two females one upset home from a night out drinking and one in the doorway behind in a nightgown. The upset girl’s misfortune it is inferred was caused by her out of control drinking, any perpetrator is out of the frame.

Let’s clear up one thing, the figure behind in the doorway I presumed to be the young woman’s mother. I was wrong. Out-of-Control have explained it was meant to depict a younger sister. This is a much more plausible interpretation. Of course this makes the messaging even worse than I originally thought.

The Out-of-Control board of 10 men and 5 women (before subsequent resignations), all leaders in their fields with a median age leaning towards the upper end, and some of whom I have worked with and respect for their commitment in their relative fields, tell us that

when they signed off on the ad they did not see the inference that I named. I believe them. The point of course isn’t that they put it there, which I don’t believe they did, the point is that it is there!

Out-of-Control’s public response condemning the RCNI’s statement says that ‘nobody associated with this campaign would tolerate for a minute the inference that victims of sexual assault are ever to blame.’ I believed that too. That inference in the ad has now been pointed out to them by RCNI and a quick glance at social media can confirm that it is one many others also take from the ad. Yet their response in turn has been to defend the ad and state they will continue to run it despite RCNI’s ‘unworthy’ interjection. This is perhaps explained in the next line of their statement which says, we ‘would never allow [my emphasis] any untrue inference of that kind.’

The reading I or anyone takes from the ad is, I’m afraid, not in their power to allow or disallow. With respect to the audience the unpalatable, albeit unintended, inference that many take from this ad is such that it should at least be deserving of reflection.

Clíona Saidléar

RCNI Acting Executive Director

There are no shades of grey around sexual consent

There are no shades of grey around sexual consent

Yes, Fifty Shades of Grey is just fantasy – but inexperienced young people are vulnerable to the mixed signals presented in this big screen blockbuster.

RAPE IS WRONG. No question. But consent? Well, there are all sorts of shades of grey, right? Not only do we get told the greyness of consent is realistic we also get sold a notion that it is, in fact, sexy. So where is the harm?

The harm for a victim of sexual violence is that we live in a culture where there are questions about rape. The questions range from why did you accept a lift from him? Why did you wear those skimpy clothes? Why did you get so drunk? All of these questions are nonsense, of course; when it comes to rape the only sensible questions that will give us any helpful insight are for the rapists.

When sexual consent is ambiguous, this means that for many survivors of rape, silence and isolation are their only options. If we think of consent as endless shades of grey then we help to sustain a society where perpetrators of sexual violence get away with it.

We should be critical consumers of the Fifty Shades of Grey fantasy

In particular, we are setting young girls up to accept and tolerate abuse and coercion. It is against this background we should be critical consumers of the cultural phenomenon that Fifty Shades of Grey has come to represent.

This book that is marketed as an epic love story, in reality it is nothing more than a glamorised, abusive relationship. Young people are especially vulnerable to the mixed signals delivered here. If your partner monitors your phone it is not romantic; if he tells you what to wear, what to eat and when to exercise it isn’t out of mere concern; if he shows up at your home before you have told him where you live, it is not sweet; if he hits you it is not love. It is control and it is abuse.

But this is ‘make believe’ so why does it matter? The truth is we have serious gaps in how we address gender equality. One of the most serious that the RCNI have been flagging for some time now is the prevalence of sexual harrasment and assaults that are experienced in schools. The casual corridor gropings and name callings that are minismised and we are told to not make a fuss about.

What does it mean when a young girl experiences assault and is told that her best option is to not ‘make a fuss’. What we have taught her is tolerance to sexual abuse. Fifty Shades of Grey is part of that continuum that teachs us that the ‘inevitable’ gendered sexual abuse environment is something we should tolerate rather than something intolerable we must challenge as a matter of right and justice.

Abusive relationships are being promoted as something good

At present, schools in Ireland do not have a National Policy to deal with issues of sexual harassment or sexual violence. There has also yet to be any concrete research carried out on school children and their experiences of sexual harassment and violence. Although a recent study carried out by Trinity College Dublin has found that, out of 1,038 male and female college students surveyed last year, 25% of women and 5% of men have been subjected to an unwanted sexual experience.

Fifty Shades of Grey completely bypasses consent and focuses on the pleasure and wants of Christian, regardless of how Ana feels about it. The results of this is that controlling and abusive relationships are being promoted as something good and, indeed, desirable.

Sexual consent and power are important themes here. In this scenario, sex is an entitlement of the powerful and privileged Christian. In Ireland we have become very conscious of power and the abuse of power, particularly when it comes to sex.

What messages are we giving young, inexperienced people?

We need to be aware of the message we are sending for young people. What are we telling a 17-year-old female that she should be looking for in a prospective partner? Is it controlling and abusive behaviour? By the same token, are we telling boys that this kind of behaviour will be valued? In 2013 RCNI National Rape Crisis Statistics Report found that 14% of perpetrators of sexual violence against survivors coming to Rape Crisis Centres were under the age of 18, this number is increasing every year.

Right now schools are ill-equipped to deal with the rising problem of sexual harassment that is going on inside our classrooms. More research needs to be done to show just how widespread the problem is so we can implement adequate protective measures that stop incidents from happening through policy and training. When teenagers are in an environment surrounded by these kinds of messages we need to be empowering them around safety. We need to teach our children the importance of boundaries, consent and respect, especially in relationships, as it is not something they will learn from this big screen blockbuster.

Clíona Saidléar

RCNI Director

 

 

 

Making choice to seek help is a big decision – 80% of sexual violence cases go unreported

About 80% of all survivors of sexual violence do not report to the gardaí.

A damning figure which the Government and stakeholders such as ourselves are working to improve.

To do so the question we must answer is why are such significant numbers of survivors making this choice?

Survivors are women, men, and children from all walks of life, who are making in fact a series of choices, about something that has the potential to have a massive impact on their lives.

Survivors live under a range of circumstances.

They may have families, loved ones, friends, jobs, dependents, illnesses, children, caring responsibilities, exams, bills, debts, mortgages, and all the myriad dilemmas, big and small that people deal with everyday all over Ireland, from do I move house to what shall I have for dinner tonight.

When someone is raped or sexually assaulted, then they have another set of choices. But those choices are not made in isolation, they are made in the context of complete lives.

What will reporting mean to my partner, how will I protect my children, will it affect my career, will it cost me financially, can I afford it, is there a risk that I will be approached by the perpetrator when I go to the supermarket to pick up dinner?

And filtering all those questions will be what survivors might know or believe about attitudes in society, how the justice process works, and what will be asked of them.

It is in that context that many people read the latest sexual assault case appearing in the papers. Each case informs a survivor about what they might expect and indeed risk if they were to report.

A survivor who has just been raped may need medical attention, may be afraid for their safety. They may worry about how others will react.

They may fear the doctor’s or the guard’s reaction. They may wonder who is going to be on their side if they feel overwhelmed.

And on top of that, maybe they don’t speak English, are new to Ireland and don’t know how the hospital and police system works and they are not aware of any support services and how to begin to access them.

Under these circumstances, making the choice to seek help or report is a big decision and getting through the right door is an enormous achievement.

From that moment on it is up to the professionals, the support services and the justice system to make the system work for the survivor, never the other way around.

That means creating the space and conditions for survivors to be heard and listened to; it means supporting the survivor to identify their needs and to meet them where possible; it means giving the survivor the information they need in a way they can understand and hear.

It means seeking and acting upon a survivor’s consent for what happens next.

What happens next might mean a visit to the sexual assault treatment unit where medical and nursing specialists, An Garda Síochána and a rape crisis support worker will meet them.

Those professionals will work to ensure the survivor gets the range of responses and information they need. The survivor will be offered facilities and the privacy to have a shower and a fresh change of clothes. There will be follow up the next day.

Ideally, if they decide to proceed, the gardaí will take a statement in a way that is comfortable and right for the survivor, whether that is supplying the right translator or ensuring the interview is in the local rape crisis centre and not the police station.

The investigation, by a specially trained garda, will be thorough and expert.

Ideally, the survivor can begin counselling with a specialist rape crisis counsellor without having to wait on a waiting list.

They will have been given the name of a guard who will liaise with them and keep in touch throughout.

The survivor will be accompanied and supported and will feel they are treated with respect and dignity in the courtroom.

If their case is not put to trial the reasons will be explained to them by the DPP’s office.

Their loved ones, colleagues and community will be supportive and will not blame or judge them. At all times they will feel safe and empowered in the process.

When all too often these things don’t happen for reasons of bad practice, lack of specialisation or resources or lack of priority, we cannot blame survivors for making the choice not to report.

Increasing the numbers of survivors who choose to report is about changing what happens next to make that choice not only cost less for survivors but ultimately an experience of positive vindication.

Clíona Saidléar is acting director with Rape Crisis Network Ireland.

This piece was originally published by the Irish Examiner on Monday, January 26th 2015, a link can be found here.

Speech by Frances Fitzgerald TD, Minister for Justice & Equality Dáil Éireann

Statements on allegations regarding sexual abuse by members of the Provisional Republican Movement
Speech by Frances Fitzgerald TD, Minister for Justice & Equality Dáil Éireann

12th November 2014

In my previous Ministerial role I often noted that child abuse hasn’t gone away.
Regrettably this applies not solely to child abuse. Sexual violence generally doesn’t go away. It persists as a dark stain on our humanity. It is amongst the most devastating of human experiences.

This morning I launched the Rape Crisis Network of Ireland National Statistics Report for 2013. The statistics in such reports never fail to shock. In 2013, 91% of perpetrators were known to the survivors.

The stark reality is that abuse and sexual violence happens in many settings, settings known to victims, by persons known to victims. Abuse occurred in religious dioceses and congregations; in institutions, both religious and state-run; and in sporting organisations. In the UK we have seen how sex abuse prevailed in show-business circles. Now, thanks to very public and courageous effort by one Belfast woman, Mairia Cahill, we know that sexual abuse occurred in circles of the republic movement.

Mairia was the victim of a heinous sexual abuse. But Mairia was also the victim of something else, equally heinous. She was the victim of cover-up.
She was the victim of a culture that sought to deal with abuse within a closed setting or institution, a culture which ultimately fails the victim while protecting the offender from the public rule of law, laws enacted by this Oireachtas.
While we now know of many of the settings in which cover-up of abuse took place, many questions remain. In the case of the IRA, we do not know what happened to abusers who were moved across the border. We do not know if high risk sex offenders have been resettled across the border, unknown to civil authorities, posing a lingering threat to children.

I note that Deputy Adams wrote a blog on 19th October titled “How republicans dealt with allegations of child abuse” in which he referred to how the IRA took “action against rapists and child abusers” including shooting or expelling offenders. However, despite Deputy Adams’ call for reporting, it still remains unclear as to how much Deputy Adams knows about the movement of sex offenders across the border. This matter is being currently investigated by An Garda Síochána.

Deputy Adams: Do you have any information on this specific matter which you have not shared with Gardai? Will you share this information with Gardai?

I would remind the House that this Government brought in the Criminal Justice (Withholding of Information) Act 2012. Under that Act, withholding information on a serious sexual or violent offence committed against a child or a vulnerable person is itself an offence. There is a duty on everyone to provide information to the Garda Síochána where that information concerns serious offences perpetrated against the vulnerable in society.

Neither sexual violence, nor a culture of private justice or cover-up, can be tolerated, in any form, in any context, in any circumstance by any political leader or Government, or any member of society.

But for all we know about abuse and sexual violence, what is even more frightening is what we don’t know: The abuse and violence which occurs in silence; the abuse and violence which is never reported. The Rape Crisis Network of Ireland Report which I published today shows that in 2013, only 48% of survivors of adult sexual violence reported to a formal authority. Contacts to Rape Crisis helplines throughout Ireland, saw an increase of 11% from 2012 figures. This highlights the important work that the Rape Crisis Centres do, work I wish to commend on the record of this House. However a reporting rate of 48% is far too low.

As Children’s Minister I led a high-profile effort, built around the publication of the Cloyne Report and the re-launch of Children First guidelines, to raise public awareness of the absolute need to report all child protection concerns to the civil authorities. This worked, leading to an approximate one third increase in referrals to child protection services in 2012 compared to 2011.

It is my firm belief that we must ensure a similar cross-society approach to all forms of sexual violence, in all settings. We must ensure that no barrier, no hesitation, no doubt ever comes in the way of reporting suspicions or concerns regarding the occurrence or risk of sexual abuse.

I also hope the very public efforts of Mairia Cahill, while undoubtedly a testing period for her; will nonetheless have a broader impact in empowering other victims, suffering in silence, to come forward. In this debate we heard of reports of more women who were victims of sexual violence by persons holding position in the republican movement. Some of these victims are now coming forward. I hope all victims can be supported to come forward.

I wish to commend the comments, in this House today, by my colleague Deputy Regina Doherty and her statement that she has made an appointment with Gardai to pass on information she has received. Her action is an example to us all. Her actions are an example to Deputy Adams and members of Sinn Féin, who should similarly seek appointment with Gardai to pass on what they know.

Before I conclude, I must of course say that I am not blind to the broader challenges that can be faced by victim. These challenges were brought into sharp focus in the report of the Garda Inspectorate published yesterday.

As Minister for Justice & Equality, it is my intention to legislate for victims rights and to ensure the implementation in Ireland during 2015 of the EU Victims Directive. In addition I welcome the plans underway by an An Garda Síochána which will see new Victim Liaison Offices established in each Garda division during 2015. I am also bringing forward a new Sexual Offences bill and I intend to introduce consolidated and reformed domestic violence legislation which will allow Ireland to sign and ratify the Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence

Abuse, sexual violence, domestic violence all sit on a continuum of offending and suffering which should never find succour in any contemporary, humane society. Together, we must ensure that cover-ups are again never entertained and that reporting of concerns becomes the norm. As Minister I will do all I can to crystallise such a cultural shift while ensuring that the laws and services of this state, for which I have responsibility, are fit for purpose and put victims first.

ENDS

 

Failure of Government Strategy and the Sexual Violence Crisis

In 2014 six years of cumulative cuts of up to 30% saw the temporary closure of services by one of Ireland’s largest rape crisis centres. Yet six years of cuts and public funding shrinking has been accompanied by a very significant rise in demand on services nationwide – with a 28% increase in clients accessing services between 2009 and 2012. The 2.5% cap on cuts promised by Tusla: the Child and Family Agency for 2014 was recently increased to a 3.5% cut, in many instances with no notice to services.

The impact on rape crisis centres doing more with less has a direct impact on victims of rape using or wanting to use the services – less helpline hours, longer waiting times, shorter opening hours, cessation of outreach and prevention work to some of the most vulnerable in our society. Of greatest concern is that services are less available to victims at their time of need – when they first reach out for specialist support – often in a time of crisis.

Further cuts are predicted in 2015 as any increased public spending is not a priority for post-recession Ireland. In this context what can we in Ireland anticipate in the next few years in terms of responding to rape and sexual violence crimes, looking after victims of appalling, life altering crimes and preventing these crimes from destroying even more lives and families?

Sexual violence, and all forms of gender-based violence, can be addressed and significantly prevented in the first place. Recovery from crimes of sexual violence, whether experienced in childhood, adulthood or both, is possible and happens. The pathways to recovery vary greatly, it is far from being a neat, step by step path, as every woman, man and child who has experienced sexual violence knows only too well. Specialist support is often critical.

The Irish government is drafting the new National Strategy for Sexual Violence for the coming years. Sexual violence policy impacts across multiple departments including children, health, justice, education, local government. There is every indication that the Sexual Violence Strategy will be designed in terms of what Ireland can ‘afford’ – meaning what can be achieved in decreasing public budgets and further cuts. It is important to put on the public record that this would be nothing less than a spectacular failure in terms of what Ireland must do to provide a meaningful response to victims of sexual violence.

A strategy which does not set-out to achieve secure accessible services and coordinated national prevention is a strategy which fails children, women and men in Ireland. Every single department must have a comprehensive prevention strategy. The current patchwork of frontlines operate on less than half of the real budgets required – this must be addressed.

Responding to survivors’ needs must be a priority for the state because it is right. In addition from 2015 under an EU Directive Ireland will be at risk of enforcement proceedings, including financial penalties, if its obligations to provide support services to victims are not reflected in our law. And yet, response services such as Rape Crisis Centres are struggling to keep their doors open.

The Rape Crisis Network is clear that widespread and on-going crimes of sexual violence in Ireland are not sufficiently prioritised in the current administration. Responding to victims, and developing and delivering prevention programmes, both require increased budgets at this time – and significantly increased budgets.

Both services planning and policy responses must be driven and informed by quality evidence base and analytical capacity – Ireland is very fortune in have access to both, including access to a data collection system that is recognised as a model of best practice at both Irish and EU levels. However, this unique resource, crucial to each department’s discharge of its responsibility, has operated without committed core funding for years and will shortly fall off a cliff if this government does not secure its sustainability.

Based on our experience over the past number of years engaging at policy and practice level, Rape Crisis Network Ireland are not confident that the current roadmap will deliver the necessary and long overdue response and dedicated leadership required. What we need is a government willing to do what is needed to respond appropriately to the issue of sexual violence. As survivors striving to overcome the desolation wrought by rape are only too aware, sometimes, especially when you have nothing left to give, you have to dig deeper, go further, and do more.

 

Fiona Neary, Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RCNI) Director

The Rape Crisis Network detailed and comprehensive Submission to the National Strategy of Gender Based Violence is available on our website at: www.rcni.ie/publications/submissions-and-policy-papers/

Column: Policy needed on sexually harmful behaviour in schools

RCNI call on the Minister for Education and Skills, Jan O’Sullivan, to make 2015 the year that schools became environments free from sexual violence.

The journey from the moment of a sexual assault to the moment of confiding in someone who can support you is always a journey taken alone by every victim. But it does not have to be an unsupported journey. Consider the 14 year old girl who has just had her breast grabbed in her school corridor, what have we told her that will help her make the choice to cross the corridor to a member of staff and name and report what has just happened to her so that the school can step in with a set of supportive and appropriate actions under our Child Protection regime? In all too many cases, we had already failed her even before she was assaulted because we told her all too little that would help her in this moment.

As secondary schools reopen for the 2015/2016 year RCNI invite the Minister for Education and Skills and her cabinet colleagues to take up the very real opportunity of freeing schools from all forms of sexual violence and from any threat of sexual violence.
Sexual violence remains prevalent in our society with teenage girls a particularly vulnerable group. RCNI in fact revealed last year that of all the teenagers using Rape Crisis services nationwide 37% of them were abused by their peers. Due to a lack of research resources directed at understanding sexual violence in Ireland, we do not know to what extent sexual harassment and sexual violence occurs within school settings.

However, when sexual violence in schools was looked at in the Netherlands back in 2002, (Timmerman) of 2,808 students surveyed (aged 15—16 years) 18 per cent reported unwanted sexual experiences at school in the past 12 months, 72 per cent of whom were girls. A Swedish study in 2005 (Witkowska and Menckel) surveying 1,080 young people aged 17 to 18 years found that 49 per cent of respondents identified sexual harassment as a problem in school. An Australian study in 2008 (Schute et al) found that verbal and indirect victimisation of girls by boys was an everyday occurrence and almost entirely sexual.

While sexually harmful behaviour is not confined to mixed gender schools international research would indicate that onsite offending is higher than in single sex schools. According to the Dept. of Education 65% of 367,178 second level students attend co-ed schools and colleges across Ireland – approximately 237,000 children between 11 and 18. Yet we do not have a national policy and action plan for schools on how to prevent sexual harassment and violence.

No child should have to attend a learning environment, under the care of the State, where they risk experiencing verbal, cyber and indeed physical sexual assaults during a school day. No parent should be required to send their children to attend an institution which is notproactively ensuring the safety of their children from such harm.

The Dept. of Education is missing important opportunities to support and reinforce child protection strategies given the absence of the development and roll-out of a national schools policy on sexual violence prevention. Such a prevention strategy could ideally start by addressing the gap in evidence on the nature and extent of any sexual harassment and sexual violence that students experience while in learning environments, thus equipping informed prevention.

Proactively promoting a ‘whole of school’ culture of zero-tolerance to sexual harassment and sexually harmful behaviours can greatly enhance existing child protection responses under Children First. In a school that has an explicit anti-sexual harassment policy every child should be confident that the school community already has their back, even before they are victimised thus making reporting more likely and reducing the chance of there being negative consequences for the children reporting.

It is important that we teach our intolerance of sexual violence; that this needs to be done explicitly is unfortunately evidenced by the continued rates of prevalence.

A school with a culture of zero-tolerance to harmful sexual behaviours is a school in which students are equipped to identify such behaviour easily – whether virtual or otherwise – and each student knows through the schools visual environment and explicitly voiced attitude that such behaviour is never tolerated, minimised or dismissed.

Supporting such a culture also includes meeting our obligations to children through giving them information and facts about relationships and sex. This means biological, factual and unbiased information and crucially it also means information regarding relationships and empowerment around good communications and negotiating consent safely. The curriculum, both in terms of content and in terms of its optional delivery to children, falls short on both counts.

A ‘Whole of School’ zero tolerance to sexually harmful behaviour will also consider the school’s role in ensuring the minimal disruption to education for any victim and any child perpetrator.

RCNI invite and encourage Minister Jan O’Sullivan to take a lead in partnership with other areas of government, including justice, children and youth affairs, to initiate the development of a holistic ‘Whole of school’ zero tolerance of sexually harmful behaviour.

This column was published on the Independent.ie on Sepember 9th, 2014. You can read the original here.