Rape Crisis Network Ireland Welcomes Two Forthcoming Bills

RCNI welcomes the forthcoming Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill and the newly published General Scheme of the Criminal Justice (Sexual Offences) and Human Trafficking Bill 2022.

Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill   

  • We look forward to seeing the details of the proposed new dedicated offence on stalking which acknowledges that the wide range of stalking activities often extends well beyond harassment;
  • We welcome very much the introduction of a form of civil restraint order which will help protect victims of stalking independently of the criminal justice process, or indeed, any proceedings under the Domestic Violence Act 2018. This is important, as not everyone finds it possible to pursue criminal proceedings and also, not everyone who is a victim of stalking behaviours would be eligible to apply for an order under DVA 2018;

  • We also welcome non-fatal strangulation offences and the increase in the maximum sentence for assault causing harm as additional measures to help restrain the violence which often accompanies sexual violence in an intimate relationship.

General Scheme of the Criminal Justice (Sexual Offences) and Human Trafficking Bill 2022 

  • The introduction of an element of objectivity into the belief of the defendant in the consent of the woman to sexual intercourse – is very welcome. From now on, the belief of an accused person in that consent will not only have to be honest but will also have to be reasonable. This is in line with the recommendation made by the Law Reform Commission when it reported on this issue in 2019 and it is encouraging to see it being enacted;
  • Also very welcome are the provisions which extend the right to separate legal representation to victims of sexual assault, by far the most commonly charged sexual offence, – and which also extend that right to cover the period of the complainant’s questioning on her other sexual experience;

  • The extension of the exclusion provisions, under which the court is closed to the public, to victims of sexual assault under Section 6 of the Criminal Law (Rape) Act 1981, is an encouraging initiative;

  • Finally RCNI is very glad to see the extension of the anonymity provisions to victims of offences under Sections 21 and 22 of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017 (offences against people with mental illness or disability).

Rape Crisis Network Ireland Welcomes Opening of Consultation on the new Junior Cycle RSE Curriculum

Rape Crisis Network Ireland welcomes the publication of the draft specifications on SPHE/RSE curriculum for Junior cycle children and the opening of a 12- week consultation on the new Junior Cycle Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) curriculum. The document we are asked to consider is the endpoint of extensive consultation that began in 2018. This updated curriculum is essential in a rapidly changing social, cultural and sexual landscape where sexual violence remains a persistent and widespread threat to young people.  

RCNI has long been calling for the Department of Education and Skills to put in place a national policy on sexual harassment for second-level schools and reform of the RSE curriculum is central to this objective. When discussing education and awareness on relationship and sexual education it is important to bear in mind that our society already provides comprehensive training in sexism and gender inequality. This training starts as soon as socialisation begins in early childhood and is well developed by the time children reach second level school. RCNI is encouraged to note that the new curriculum will address the increasingly concerning impact of gender inequality, sexism and pornography in addition to education around consent and healthy relationships. 

Said Cliona Saidlear, executive director of RCNI 

‘RCNI research has shown that Irish adolescents are experiencing high levels of sexual harassment and that for girls in particular sexual harassment and violence is normalised, denied and minimised. The children who will benefit from this comprehensive new curriculum must be given the tools to address their own and others’ desires and demands appropriately against our misogynistic cultural backdrop.  We are all stakeholders in this process and it is of vital importance to all of us that, as they prepare to enter their adolescence and adulthood, our children are equipped with accurate information on sex and biology, empowered by robust guidance on healthy versus abusive relationships and protected from damaging social and cultural norms around gender and sexuality.’ 

The consultation is open to all for 12 weeks. More information here

 

Relevant research 

RCNI Welcomes the Third National Strategy on Domestic Sexual and Gender-Based Violence

RCNI welcomes the launch of the Third National Strategy on Domestic Sexual and Gender-Based Violence 2022-2026 by Minister for Justice Helen McEntee. This government and Minister McEntee have demonstrated a commitment to addressing sexual, domestic and gender-based violence and as such, we have high expectations for this strategy, which is our first since ratifying the Istanbul Convention in 2019.
 

Dr Cliona Saidléar, RCNI Executive Director said,

This strategy is a step change in our approach. For the first time a government is approaching the subject with the belief that change is possible rather than finding better ways to live with the intolerable.  We particularly welcome the commitment to a dedicated and specialist DSGBV agency. For too long DSGBV has 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.  

We also particularly welcome that for the first time the National Strategy on DSGBV including children, including the role of the Ombudsman for Children in these child-focused actions. We look forward to working more closely with his office. 

The commitment to survivors to secure and increase the diversity and responsiveness of services and supports to meet their needs is very welcome and needed. Rape Crisis Centres throughout the country are currently operating far beyond capacity and resources and demand is ever growing.’ 

RCNI conducted research into services in July 2021 and found that there were 967 survivors on waiting lists for counselling at 16 Rape Crisis Centres, with some centres reporting waiting times of over one year and one centre closing its waiting list as waiting times were over 2 years.  

In the last 10 years we have seen a 100% increase in contacts to Helplines.* The first year of the pandemic alone saw a 22% increase in the number of contacts to some RCCs.* 73% of contacts to Rape Crisis Centre Helplines receive no state support. In the absence of government funding, we are grateful to the many volunteers and donors who make this work possible.  

Saidléar continued:

‘The step change evident in this third National Strategy must also include a step change in levels and sustainability of funding to services working with victims of DSGBV, alongside national planning and development which will see all survivors having equitable access to best practice services no matter where they are in the country. We look forward to working with the Minister and her department and partners across government and the community in driving this new strategy forward.’ 

* This figure includes the 6 RCCs who use the RCNI Data Collection System to collate their Helpline data. RCNI Rape Crisis Statistics 2020, p 3.   

RCNI Welcomes the Commencement of Criminal Procedure Act 2021 

RCNI today welcomes the commencement in full by Minister for Justice Helen McEntee of the Criminal Procedure Act 2021. This Act introduces preliminary trial hearings, including those related to sexual offences, that can now take place from today. RCNI has lobbied for the introduction of pre-trial hearings since 2008 and they are an important part of the implementation plan Supporting a Victim’s Journey arising from Tom O’Malley’s Review of Protections for Vulnerable Witnesses In the Investigation and Prosecution of Sexual Offences. Minister McEntee is to be congratulated on her work in ensuring that they have become a reality.  

RCNI hopes that over time preliminary trial hearings will have real potential to reduce delays and the attendant stress and uncertainties on survivors of sexual violence.  It is also hoped that they will reduce the number of cases being listed, adjourned late and delayed – only to be relisted then re-adjourned. A reduction in the number of times a case is listed will have a positive impact on the survivor’s experience of the justice system as every time a case is scheduled the survivor’s memories and attendant emotions are likely to be triggered.  

RCNI looks forward to working with the Department of Justice on further measures to benefit survivors of sexual violence. More information on the Criminal Procedures Act 2021 can be found here 

  

Breaking the Silence: Preventing Sexual Violence against Children: shared purpose, shared language 

Preventing Sexual Violence against Children: shared purpose, shared language 

 On Tuesday 22 February, Rape Crisis Network Ireland launched ‘Breaking the Silence: Terminology Guidelines for Data Collection on Sexual Violence against Children’ at an online event featuring contributions from Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Inclusion and Youth Roderick O’Gorman, Biljana Brankovic, member of GREVIO, the independent expert body responsible for monitoring the implementation of the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (Istanbul Convention) and Niall Muldoon, Ombudsman for Children.  

One of the keystones of the Summary Report of the Third National Strategy on Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based Violence Strategy issued for public consultation last week by the Department of Justice was the need for ‘developing enhanced coordination of data collection strategies’.  Nowhere is this more vital than in the services that work with child survivors of sexual violence who tell their stories in fragments and in whole in a range of fora.  This new resource proposes shared terminology for services to join up those fragments to build evidence. This is important because the more comprehensive the picture of sexual violence against the child, the more comprehensive the advocacy, protection and interagency supports can be. 

Breaking the Silence: Terminology Guidelines for Data Collection on Sexual Violence Against Children is the culmination of a collaboration with 28 organisations working in data collection and sexual violence against children, one of the most vulnerable and voiceless groups of all survivors. The project goal is a common language supported by guidelines for terminology on sexual violence against children. Adoption of the proposed shared terminology and definitions will bring data collection into line with international obligations, including the Istanbul Convention, and enable the collection of reliable, comprehensive and comparable data, thus breaking silences. 

Said Clíona Saidléar, executive director of RCNI: 

 ‘Supporting children experiencing sexual violence, understanding what is happening to them, and working towards prevention is a shared ambition for all the 28 different organisations in this report. We know that being able to share our knowledge effectively with each other and publicly is key to this objective. This is the first time we have come together to examine how we do that, to map the absences, gaps and assumptions and agree here the set of terms and definitions that we can all use to build that shared knowledge. This not only makes us compliant with the law and our obligations it empowers us to create change.’  

Said Minister O’Gorman:  

‘No violence against children is justifiable and we must do everything in our power to prevent it. Historically, children have been silenced by the use of vague and non-sexually explicit language that erases, condones, normalises or minimises violence against them. The more comprehensive the picture of the violence against the child, the more comprehensive the advocacy, protection and interagency supports can be. By using the shared, internationally recognised definitions and indicators provided in ‘Breaking the Silence’, the reports that Irish frontline services publish can contribute to the national and international evidence base on sexual violence against children.’ 

Speaking ahead of the launch of Breaking the Silence, the Ombudsman for Children, Dr Niall Muldoon said:   

“The importance of how we define abuse in both legislation and every-day life cannot be underestimated. If we are all on the same page in terms of the terminology we use, with a shared set of definitions, the outcomes achieved will be greatly improved. 

A shared understanding is needed now more than ever as the long overdue conversations around consent and educating young people and society, are finally taking place. We need to teach our young people how to interact in a respectful and safe way, and a common language is vital for these conversations to be successful.” 

Breaking the Silence is available to download on the Rape Crisis Network Ireland website here.  The launch can be viewed online here

Rape Crisis Network Ireland Welcomes Consultation on the Third National DSGBV Strategy

RCNI welcomes today’s opening of Consultation on the Third National Strategy to Combat Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based Violence (DSGBV) by Minister for Justice Helen McEntee and its stated goal of ‘zero tolerance’ of violence against women and girls.  

 In particular, we strongly welcome the proposed new dedicated agency on DSGBV which will be established on a statutory basis and which will be responsible for both policy and services, under the Minister for Justice. 

 Says Cliona Saidlear, Executive Director of Rape Crisis Network Ireland:  

‘This will be this Government’s legacy in the struggle to eradicate violence against women as it will sustain the sector and our capacity to understand the causes of DSGBV and drive solutions into the future, allowing us to create real change.’ 

Alongside the proposed Cabinet sub-committee on DSGBV, this measure will ensure that sexual violence as well as other forms of violence will get the prominence and the dedicated focus they deserve. This must be matched with adequate resources, staffing and levels of autonomy for the agency in its work. Furthermore, this strategy for the first time integrates the child victim into the consideration of DSGBV – this will be transformative and we commend the Minister and her colleagues for taking this step.

Other positive initiatives include:  

  • the recognition of the need for close collaboration with specialist NGOs including service provider NGOs; 
  • the framing of the Strategy in Istanbul Convention terms that focus on Prevention, Protection, Prosecution and Policy Co-Ordination; 
  • the emphasis on the importance of research and data collection to monitor and evaluate trends, outcomes and efficiency as well as imagine and develop solutions. 

The Third National Strategy is presented as an open, working document and RCNI looks forward to future collaboration with the Department of Justice and other State and non-State agencies to help ensure the Strategy reaches its full potential and continue to evolve in its ambition and capacity. 

 

Statement on Child Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation Material (Amendment) Bill 2022

Rape Crisis Network Ireland strongly supports in principle the replacement of “child pornography” in the current legislation with “child sexual exploitation material” outlined in the Child Trafficking and Child Sexual Exploitation Material (Amendment) Bill 2022 brought by Senator Eileen Flynn last week. We would like to congratulate Senator Flynn on this very important initiative. 

As it stands, the Bill would need to have some essential amendments to ensure that it is legally robust: most importantly so that existing prosecutions for child pornography offences are preserved and so that those already subject to the Sex Offenders Act 2001 – who have already been convicted of “child pornography” offences – will continue to be subject to it even when the wording is changed. 

Breaking the Silence: Terminology Guidelines for Data Collection on Sexual Violence against Children

‘With an estimated 2% conviction rate* on reported Child Sexual Violence cases, making sure we can tell the child’s story, wherever they break the silence, is essential’ says Cliona Saidlear, Executive Director of RCNI, ‘All services and professionals meeting a child’s needs must be able to join up their knowledge with others’, especially when our children cannot. To do this we must develop a common language. This is what the RCNI Breaking the Silence collaborative project promises.’  

The goal of a common language and the aim of creating guidelines for terminology on sexual violence against children is to enable the collection of reliable, comprehensive and comparable data across services which will improve our understanding and interagency pathways for children. Failure to use shared language risks minimising or even erasing the experience of the child. 

‘Breaking the Silence’ is a collaborative project which provides child-specific terminology and definitions for some of the manifestations of the many forms of sexual violence against children that are covered by the Istanbul Convention and Irish legislation.  Now, more than ever, it is well understood that violence against children includes physical, psychological, sexual and emotional violence and it has become increasingly important that the language to describe it captures and accurately records its breadth and nuance. The terminology guide is designed to be used by Irish service providers who must be able to talk to the children and their carers, in language that is appropriate to their organisation.   

 

* The 2% conviction rate is an estimate developed by the Garda Inspectorate. 

 

Download the resource here.

 

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Gaps in Specialist Sexual Violence Training Must Be Addressed 

Rape Crisis Network Ireland Responds to Higher Education Authority’s Surveys On Sexual Violence and Harassment in Higher Education 

Today’s Higher Education Authority Surveys of experiences of Sexual Violence and Harassment in Higher Education released by the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Simon Harris, makes for sobering reading. The students who took part in the survey described high levels of sexual violence and harassment and staff. 

RCNI welcomes the progress made in establishing the evidence of the extent of sexual violence and harassment amongst Ireland’s HEI students and staff and welcomes Minister Harris’ commitment of additional funding to support accountability and action across HEIs and supporting cultural change.  

Many survivors of sexual abuse and harassment on campus will seek counselling support, including at their local Rape Crisis Centre. Our forthcoming research shows that 11% attend student counselling and 33% attend rape crisis centres for specialist counselling. To reinforce the solid recommendations outlined in the report, RCNI calls for all HEIs to make good on a partnership with their local Rape Crisis Centre through secure funding commitments under the HEI Framework for Consent to support the availability and access for their students and staff to specialization services and advocacy. 

For the Minister and the Department their attention must include supporting the training infrastructure that needs to be in place to meet survivor needs. The RCNI’s forthcoming report on the Clinical Innovation Project ‘Counselling Survivors On and Offline’ examined the provision of on- and offline counselling to survivors of sexual violence during the pandemic and identified serious shortfalls in the availability of specialised training and CPD for counsellors. It also found that two thirds of survivors do not reach specialist services and have a high level of dissatisfaction with the support they receive. Survivor feedback speaks to an urgent need to put in place standardised specialist training and specialist clinical supervision for the counselling sector. 

Cliona SaidlearExecutive Director of RCNI, said:  

The gaps in specialist sexual violence training across the counselling profession pose a risk of further harm and re-traumatisation for survivors of sexual violence. The current situation of absent or uneven specialist sexual violence training is inequitable and does not serve either survivors or counsellors. It challenges student counselling services and their partners in the community in providing counselling for survivors and reducing waiting lists. RCNI would welcome further engagement with the Minister about how we ensure the professional specialist training with the potential to improve the experience of all is supported. 

Joining Up the Dots: RCNI welcomes Commitments Made in Dáil Debate

Following the murder of Ashling Murphy and the Sinn Féin Motion to the Dáil on 19 January 2022, RCNI welcomes government announcements.  

 

RCNI Executive Director Cliona Saidlear said:  

‘The transformation in the past week is that the issue of Men’s Violence Against Women has been articulated, almost unanimously, as part of a system of misogyny.’  

As Sinn Féin leader Deputy Mary Lou MacDonald coined it, ‘the circuitry of misogyny’, the systemic nature of male violence against women, has been identified and called out. The Taoiseach, Ministers and Deputies echoed this same message.  

What we heard over and over was an understanding that we cannot divorce the violence against one woman from the violence that happens to all women, from the everyday sexist slights and omissions to the targeted, sustained and serious attacks on women.  

RCNI welcomes Minister for Justice Helen McEntee’s announcement that her Department is ‘developing a plan to bring policy responsibility for domestic, sexual and gender-based violence and the delivery of domestic violence services together under the Department of Justice’. This will mean the funding of services will for the first time be located in the same Department as the policy lead. This joins up the dots at an infrastructure level for the first time and gives us the chance of a systemic response to a systemic problem.  

RCNI Executive Director Cliona Saidlear said: 

RCNI particularly welcomes that the work, in one Department, under one Ministry, in service provision and prevention on DSGBV, will be accountable to a cabinet committee chaired by An Taoiseach.  

This meets the level of political engagement and accountability we have been calling for. RCNI looks forward to working with the lead DSGBV Minister, political leaders and the Department to advance the scale of action and reform needed for the cultural change Michael Martin has committed Ireland to.’