Rape Crisis Network Ireland Calls for a National Policy on Sexual Harassment in Secondary Schools

This afternoon the Joint Committee on Education, Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science met to discuss ‘School Bullying and the Impact on Mental Health’ with a panel including Dr Niall Muldoon, Ombudsman for Children. 

Dr Muldoon cited the Ombudsman for Children’s submission to the Committee in February 2021 that noted that the UN Committee’s LOIPR for Ireland ‘requested disaggregated data from the State about cases of bullying and harassment in schools.’  In the submission, the Ombudsman encouraged the Joint Committee to include the ‘matter of oversight, monitoring and evaluation in its current examination and to improve the collection, collation and analysis of data about bullying in schools involving children and young people.’  

There is very little data on types of bullying, and in particular on incidences of sexual harassment on school premises and during school hours, but there is a burgeoning body of evidence that child-on-child sexual harassment and assault is a growing problem. In 2014, Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RCNI) found that for survivors under the age of 18 utilising RCC and CARI services in 2012, 

  • 64% of the disclosed sexual violence incidents were perpetrated by another child between 13 and 17 years old.1 
  • child perpetrators were generally the same age or slightly older than the child they abuse. They are overwhelmingly 15 to 17 years old (82%).2 
  • from the age of 13 the likelihood of a sexual crime being perpetrated by a child increased: 13-and 14-year-olds account for 14% of all child perpetrators; 15- and 16-year-olds account for almost 39% of child perpetrators; and 17-year-olds account for 43% of child perpetrators.3 

Furthermore, CSO figures released just last week state that 20% of detected sexual violence reported in 2019 involved juveniles as both victims and suspected offenders. Rape Crisis Centres nationwide, in contact with survivors and educational institutions, report ongoing instances of harassment and assault in schools. While there are many examples of excellent school responses there are also inconsistent, inappropriate or inadequate responses to same from the authorities.  

Said Cliona Saidlear, Executive Director of the RCNI: 

‘Sexual violence remains prevalent in schools with teenage girls and gender non-conforming children are particularly vulnerable groups. Schools not only encompass physical environments within which children spend significant periods of their time, but they are also powerful norm-setting influences on teenagers. School authorities must respond to incidents and support and report appropriately, but it must now be recognised that this is insufficient given the scale of the problem. The education system has an opportunity and an obligation to address the harmful cultural norms that may be fostered in our schools. RCNI have been calling for a national policy on sexual violence in schools for a decade. In 2021, doing nothing to address the culture and prevent sexual violence is no longer an option.’ 

The RCNI calls for:  

  • every school community to have an explicit zero tolerance of sexual harassment and violence which proactively shapes a safe learning environment.   
  • a national policy put in place to ensure best practice and consistency to support the children involved (beyond Children First reporting obligations), to reduce instances of secondary trauma, to prevent negative impacts on their school performance and interventions to ensure the victimisation does not become a further source of bullying. 
  • priority to be given to providing proven interventions with children exhibiting harmful sexualised behaviour.

Until such a strategy is put in place it will not be possible to evaluate, monitor and work against the harm caused by sexual harassment in schools. A national whole of school policy and set of actions is the most appropriate response to the scale of the problem of teenage vulnerability to sexual violence.  



  1. Hearing Child Survivors of Sexual Violence, p.12 
  2. The Older Child and Sexual Violence: Questions sand Challenges for a NationalResponse, p.11 
  3. Hearing Child Survivors of Sexual Violence, p.24
  4. The RCNI will shortly publish some of the findings from ‘ An Exploration of Sexual Harassment among Irish Adolescents: Experience and Understanding’, original research by Dr Michelle Walsh that will give us up to date data on adolescents’ experience and understanding of sexual harassment.  

Rape Crisis Network Ireland Responds to CSO Figures on Crime Victims and Suspected Offenders

In response to the Central Statistics Office figures released today on Recorded Crime Victims 2020 and Suspected Offenders 2019, the RCNI would like to point out that, while sexual violence seems particularly horrifying where children are both the victims and the perpetrators, this is the reality we must urgently face up to. Sexual violence crimes are committed by children because we have somehow taught them this behaviour and set of attitudes. We must understand how we do this and what we need to do to change

The figure of 20% for child victim and perpetrator in 2019 recorded by the Gardai compares with our own rape crisis numbers which are lower at 13% of sexual violence disclosed to us committed by children acting alone and a further 4% where adults were also part of the abuse, possibly directing the child’s abuse of another child.

For the RCNI the standout figure remains that 99% of the perpetrators of recorded sexual violence were male. Male sexual violence remains the core issue that needs to be addressed.

Rape Crisis Network Ireland Executive Director Dr Clíona Saidléar Appointed to the Health Research Board

Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RCNI) is delighted to announce that Executive Director Dr Clíona Saidléar has been appointed to the Health Research Board (HRB).

The HRB is the lead funding agency for health research in Ireland and oversees a €45 million investment in health research activity each year. The HRB leads and supports excellent research, generates relevant knowledge and promotes its application in policy and practice.

Says Ms Saidléar:

‘I am very honoured to have been appointed to the Health Research Board. I believe that consistent and comparable data is essential in developing policy objectives and in my role in the RCNI I have been a strong advocate for the importance of research, data and evidence to ensure that survivors of sexual violence in Ireland can access the very best care available. As the RCNI works from a feminist and equality-based ideological foundation, challenging inequalities and discrimination is a large part of my work, and I am looking forward to bringing this dedication to evidence-informed care and commitment to human rights to my role in the Health Research Board.’ 

The remaining appointees announced by Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly this week are Dr Terence McWade, CEO of the Royal College of Physicians in Ireland and Dr Julie Ling, CEO of the European Association for Palliative Care in Belgium. The appointments run from 9th April 2021 to 8th April 2026.

10 days. 400 responses. 1 vital project to create world-class counselling for survivors.

It’s just 10 days since we launched our survivors’ survey and already over 400 people have already responded. This is truly remarkable. We are so grateful to each and every one that has taken the time and made the effort to complete our survey.

Your insights, your views, your great ideas will feed into the development of a global standard counselling service in Ireland as we begin to emerge from this pandemic.

The more responses. The better the response.

We also hope that the fact that so many have already responded that it might be encouragement for more of you to also take time to fill out our anonymous and totally secure survey. The more we hear from and the more views we get, the more we can work to improve the way counselling can respond in what is most likely going to be a hybrid world of on and off-line supports.

We know what we are asking is not easy. But, it’s important that you also know that we are not looking to cause you distress, or asking you to discuss your experience of surviving sexual violence. Instead we want to know what your experience of therapy has been like, what has helped you, what has not been so helpful, are there things that we, as professional therapists, are doing well or are there things we could do better?

We can only start to make the changes you want to see if you tell us how we can do our job better for you. This is something we are really passionate about.

Something positive emerging from COVID-19 in Ireland

And there has perhaps never been a more vital time to to re-evaluate, to re-imagine, to change what we are doing.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been identified as a crucial turning point for the implementation of adequate guidelines for the protection of victims of domestic sexual and gender based violence, as well as for the proposal of new strategies for the management of domestic and gender based violence during future pandemics. The stay at home policies and lock downs have increased instances of domestic sexual and gender based violence itself, creating a “shadow pandemic within the pandemic”, as it has been called by the United Nations

Countries across the globe have reacted in very different ways. In Turkey, just last week, we saw the unlawful Presidential decision to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention, putting women there in greater danger.

Thankfully, Ireland’s response has been to prioritise domestic and sexual violence, from the start of the pandemic. While we are still gathering data, it does seem as if this prioritisation has made a significant difference. We know from our own work that survivors of sexual violence have been reaching out to rape crisis centres. Preliminary data, taken from just six of our centres shows a 40% increase in the number of appointments filled, 22% increase in the number of helpline contacts made, and 89% increase in the text messages made to these helplines during the first six months of this pandemic when compared against the same period in 2019.

The combination of the conditions of the pandemic that we have been living with now for over a year, and the engagement of survivors with support services has had a significant impact on how we do our work. Many in the field of DSGBV are coming up with new and inventive strategies to reach out to survivors during this pandemic and beyond.

Here are the RCNI, we believe that our Clinical Innovation Project – or Counselling Survivors in an On and Off-Line World, is one of these global leading innovative strategies to change how we do things for the best and for the long-term.

We have heard from over 400 survivors. But, we want to hear from more. If you are a survivor, we want to ask you to stand with those who have already completed the survey. If you are a counsellor or a support service, perhaps you can encourage the survivors you work with to fill out our survey.

400 is a great number. But if we hear from even more of you, we will have a better chance of getting a rounded and holistic view of what is happening with regard to counselling now and, importantly, what has to happen to ensure that you get the support and professionalism you need.

Access the Survey Here

RCNI launching first national survey aimed at sexual violence survivors

One year on from lockdown, this survey forms a critical part of a pioneering research and training programme to ensure that counselling on and off-line is working for survivors now.

Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RCNI) is launching the first national survey aimed at reaching out to survivors of sexual violence and those who are supporting survivors today, to understand more about their experiences of counselling and psychotherapy in a world that has been changed utterly by the pandemic.

The new, succinct on-line survey is a critical part of the RCNI’s new pioneering programme of work called Counselling Survivors in an On & Offline World to ensure that there is standardised and specialist counselling for survivors in a post-pandemic world in Ireland. It will be live from March 15th to April 12th. The survey is accessible here.

The RCNI programme is recognised as a global leader in exploring the potential for a new standardised hybrid model of counselling. It has been co-created with Dr Jessica Taylor, a UK based forensic psychologist, survivor and author of the best-selling book Why Women Are Blamed for Everything and founder of Victim Focus. RCNI says that remote trauma counselling is here to stay as part of a new hybrid model of on and off-line clinical counselling. The new RCNI-led programme will also complement the implementation of the O’Malley Report, Supporting a Victim’s Journey: A plan to help victims and vulnerable witnesses in sexual violence cases.

The survivors’ survey follows a major survey of over 750 counsellors and psychotherapists throughout Ireland, and with the collaboration of all the main organisations providing counselling and training.

It found that 79% of respondents said that it was important to have specialism in sexual violence. However, less than half said that their knowledge of misogyny and gender roles was good, indicating a gap between understanding of root causes of sexual violence and the desire for specialism and standardisation in training.
“The survivors’ survey we are launching this week is central to our understanding of how counselling is working for them, particularly over this past tumultuous year,” said Dr Michelle Walshe, who is the RCNI Clinical Programme Lead on the global leading project.

“We are asking survivors and people who are supporting them to fill out our easy to navigate and succinct survey. It will take less than 10 minutes, yet those 10 minutes will feed into the development of training that can ensure that counselling in this country is completely fit for purpose for the new hybrid world we are entering into,” she continued.

“It also means that survivors will have real choice in how they want to receive counselling in the future. As our survey to date has shown, there are huge advantages to on-line counselling, but there are things we have to address and know more about to be certain that it is working.”

The counsellors who responded to the RCNI survey also said that there were many advantages to working remotely and on-line, for example it was easier for many clients who wouldn’t ordinarily be able to or feel uncomfortable accessing services regularly. However, there were also difficulties, primarily with picking up on body language and behavioural cues, and there were some fears from counsellors around assessing the risk of issues like self-harm and suicide.

The programme emerged from the experience of the initial Covid-19 lockdown a year ago when Rape Crisis Centres had to be evacuated and when trauma counselling services had to move on-line, almost overnight.

The initiative is supported by Rethink Ireland, through the Innovate Together Fund, a collaboration between Rethink Ireland the Department of Rural and Community Development. The Fund supports charities’ innovative responses to the Covid-19 crisis that will provide lasting change.

The survivors’ survey will be followed up with a series of in-depth one-to-one interviews with self-selecting and supported survivors, beginning in late April.

Press Release January 25, 2021


For release:        January 25, 2021

RCNI and TENI working together to ensure world class counselling for all survivors of sexual violence

Rape Crisis Network Ireland and Transgender Equality Network Ireland are working closely together to ensure that specialist rape crisis centres and counselling for survivors of sexual violence on-line continue to be safe, caring and affirming places for trans survivors.

RCNI has been resourced to develop a new training programme for counsellors and therapists to deliver global standard specialist supports for all survivors of sexual violence.

The new Clinical Innovation project, called Counselling Survivors in an On and Off Line, focuses particularly on the transfer of sexual violence trauma work online and the opportunities and challenges that represents.  Over the next nine months RCNI will be engaging in extensive consultation, started already with TENI. A particular focus built into the methodology is to examine how the shift to online counselling in 2020 has impacted both positively and negatively on different groups who may face barriers to services and supports.

“Rape crisis centres have been safe places for trans survivors of sexual violence for decades,” said Cliona Saidlear, Director of RCNI. “Part of ensuring that remains the case for us is to continually update and review our approach. We are grateful for the advice and active engagement of the lgbtq+ community who worked with us five years ago in our last review and update of our training packs.”

“RCNI is delighted that TENI is going to be working with us and our Clinical Lead Dr Michelle Walsh to ensure the CPD and training for specialist counsellors that we are developing under the Clinical Innovation review is fully trans inclusive and appropriate to this community.”

Éirénne Carroll, TENI’s CEO continued:

“TENI is always working to ensure that there is equal access for trans people to all services and programmes. We will continue to work alongside the RCNI to support and ensure trans people are always treated with affirming care and practical knowledge and understanding. In the coming weeks we will continue to work together to make sure the needs of trans people are understood, and respected and RCNI programs are fully inclusive. RCNI and TENI are committed to ensuring all centres continue to welcome and care for all who are in need of RCNI services including the trans community.”


For more information contact: RCNI TENI PR

Responding to the Trauma of Sexual Violence in a Post-Pandemic World

Responding to the Trauma of Sexual Violence in a Post-Pandemic World


RCNI launches innovative training and research programme to address Counselling Survivors of Sexual Violence On and Off-Line


Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RCNI) has joined forces with Dr Jessica Taylor, UK based forensic psychologist, survivor and author of best-selling book Why Women Are Blamed For Everything to co-create a pioneering new world-standard training and evidence gathering programme on counselling survivors of sexual violence in a post-pandemic world.


The Programme, called Counselling Survivors On and Off-Line, has emerged from the experience of the Covid-19 lockdown when Rape Crisis Centres had to be vacated and when trauma counselling services had to move on-line.


The RCNI’s partner for this programme is a world-leading and critical voice on victim blaming, feminism and sexual violence. She is the founder and owner of VictimFocus, the VictimFocus Blog and The VictimFocus Academy which has 1.2 million readers per year. Her PhD explored the psychology of victim blaming and self-blame of women who have been subjected to sexual violence and abuse, which she subsequently published as her book.


According to Cliona Saidlear, Director of RCNI, the change in the provision of RCC counselling services brought about by the Covid-19 lockdown impacted profoundly on the quality and nature of the deep intervention required for survivors, in ways that could not have been predicted and that are still not fully understood.


“While there is some optimism that a vaccine for Covid-19 may mean a return to some normality in 2021, the impact of Covid and dealing with the trauma of sexual violence within a global shared trauma of a pandemic is not going to disappear,” she said.


“Remote trauma counselling is here to stay as part of a new hybrid model of on- and off- clinical counselling,” Saidlear continued. “But it’s vital that we know that what we are doing in this new era of on- and off-line counselling is working, is of the highest possible standard, and is completely survivor centred.”


RCNI data from the initial lockdown period in 2020 showed significant increases and changes in survivor engagement. There was a 23% increase in contacts made to Rape Crisis Centre Helplines. Almost all of those already in counselling in the centres could switch to remote counselling but some could not.


The new RCNI programme combines both critical research and training. The programme will gather evidence and understanding about the impact of dealing with the trauma of sexual violence in a pandemic world and how practitioners have responded. Secondly, RCNI and Dr Jessica Taylor will deliver a CPD recognised training programme, taking into account the evidence, to fast track learning and upskilling to counsellors, so that survivors can be confident that the services they are accessing, whether in person, or remotely, are of the highest quality.


Dr Taylor said that it was vital that the general public and bystanders also understand that counselling for survivors has to be highly specialised, trauma informed and evidence-based.


“The old days of a comforting word and a “lavender bath” have long passed for survivors of sexual abuse,” she said. “It is absolutely critical that survivors, the general public and by-standers understand that counselling and supports for survivors of sexual violence, both on-line and face-to-face have to be highly specialised and highly trained. The pioneering training and research work we are doing here in Ireland can inform the response to survivors throughout the world.”


The new RCNI-led programme will also complement the implementation of the O’Malley Report, Supporting a Victim’s Journey: A plan to help victims and vulnerable witnesses in sexual violence cases.


The initiative is supported by Rethink Ireland, through the Innovate Together Fund, a collaboration between Rethink Ireland the Department of Rural and Community Development. The Fund supports charities’ innovative responses to the Covid-19 crisis that will provide lasting change.


For more information:

Contact Edel Hackett, Tel: 087-2935207


Future-Proofed Training


The new training programme Counselling Survivors On and Off-Line will:


  1. Create a specialist and standardised suite of training for those working with survivors of sexual violence;
  2. Ensure that these trainings are accredited and recognised as CPD best practice by key stakeholders, including Government;
  3. Create a register to ensure that all those working with survivors in this post-Covid era have completed the training as the gold standard;
  4. Create an on-line community of practitioners connected to survivors through safe online platforms.
  5. Complement and strengthen other projects and programmes like the O’Malley report training.


RCNI statement on online abuse, support and responses 

Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RCNI) Press Release 

19th Nov 2020  

RCNI statement on online abuse, support and responses 

RCNI would like to send out a message to anyone who believes they may be affected by the non-consensual sharing of private and intimate images that there is support available and that they are not to blame.   

We would like to condemn in the strongest possible way those who have shared or facilitated or downloaded images of this nature without the consent of the person. This is never ok; it is never harmless and very shortly it will be a criminal offence in Ireland to share intimate images of adults online without consent. There is already a range of criminal offences available in relation to intimate images of children being shared online 

Anyone affected by such behaviour can access support from a Rape Crisis Centre or domestic violence serviceDomestic and sexual violence services increasingly respond to this issue and trained support workers and counsellors are available to you through your local services (please find them on rapecrisishelp.ie or safeireland.ie) or through the national helplines (180341900 & 1800 778888). If you are under 18 please contact Childline on 1800 666 666 for support and guidance. If you are a parent or other adult concerned about intimate images of children being circulated online, please refer to www.hotline.ie to view their reporting procedure. Alternatively, you can report your concerns to An Garda Síochána directly. 

If you have access to someone else’s image that has been shared online and you are concerned it has been shared without their consent, it is vital that you refer the matter to the Gardaí and refrain from any further sharing or action around the image.  

RCNI continues to work on improving legislation pertaining to online abuse of any kind and we welcome the priority being given by this Government to the Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Bill, which will reach its Dáil Select Committee stage on 1st December 2020 and is projected to be signed into law by the end of this year. This Bill contains new offences criminalising the distribution of intimate images of adults online without consent.  

Iaddition, the General Scheme on Online Safety and Media Regulation needs to be moved up the Government’s priority list to ensure the mechanisms exist for swift take down upon request and to establish Media Commissioner. 

We continue to work very actively with our partners here and globally to address this issue and to ensure harm is prevented and swift and appropriate action follows where harm and offending is detected 


For information please contact Natalie Robinson: 0833682229

RCNI release first statistics showing how Covid-19 impacted survivors of sexual violence and Rape Crisis Centres during lockdown.

Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RCNI) Press release 20th July 2020 

RCNI today said this new data shows Rape Crisis Centres rapidly adapting to changing survivors’ needs and capacity to reach outIt also suggests both increased need due to the additional trauma of the pandemic and unmet need due to those who have put their contact with rape crisis on hold until they feel safe enough and have the time and privacy to give focus to their trauma. Now more than ever specialist sexual violence services will need to have secure funding going into 2021.

RCNI data, drawing on a snapshot from six Rape Crisis Centres during the Covid stay-at-home period, March-June 2020 compared to the same period in 2019, shows significant increases and changes in survivor engagement

We have seen a significant increase in contacts made to Rape Crisis Centre Helplines, overall a 23% increase during the three months of lockdown measures, with the largest increase being in March (63%). 

Almost everyone already in counselling in the Centres were able to switch to remote counselling in mid-March, but some were not. Alongside the counselling that continued, RCCs offered an additional 30% appointments with survivors. These took place by phone or video call. Survivors contacting through the helpline changed what they wanted from that contact also

In terms of what the helpline was used for through the period March – June, there was a 98% increase in the number of contacts made by survivors seeking counselling and support. This correlates with a striking increase of 83% in the length of time spent on calls made to RCC helplines. Elaine Mears, RCNI’s Data and Privacy Coordinator said: “Where previously helpline contacts may have been just a few minutes, now they were lasting over 30 minutes, with calls up to an hour and a half increasing five-fold when compared to the same period last year”. 

During the Covid stay-at-home period, we have seen aincrease in survivors of all age groups contacting RCCs for support, especially those aged between 40-49RCNI Executive Director, Dr Clíona Saidléar said: “From our conversations with counsellors and managers in RCCs we believe that this is in a large part due to the lockdown measures triggering past trauma. This age cohort are often holding multiple responsibilities such as care of children and elders as well as un/employment, increasing pressures at this time. 

Alongside this, data shows that 781 children and young people, aged between 12 and 23, engaged with these six RCCs. Dr Saidléar continued, ‘We are so glad that children and young people who needed rape crisis support reached out and found us. We do remain concerned for children during this period and know that there are many who have not been able to ask for support and helpWe need redoubled Government and Tusla commitment to ensure that Rape Crisis Centresalongside other specialist services and partners, the Gardaí, Sexual Assault treatment Units and children’s specialist services will be here when they do.

In this crisis, RCCs have been a key resource, not only for survivors but for professionals and others seeking information and advice. We have seen 69% increase in the number of contacts made to RCCs by individuals seeking information, and 72% increase in the number of professionals accessing the helplinesThis data indicates that RCCs are widely recognised as valuable hubs of local and national expertise for anyone seeking help or support around the issue of sexual violence. 

Rape Crisis Centres across Ireland have shown themselves to be dynamic and responsive services for survivors and others seeking support, advice, and information. As the world continues to move through uncertainty, it is more vital than ever for RCCs to remain resourced and flexible to meet survivor needs.


For information: please contact Natalie Robinson: 0833682229.


  • This data comes from the RCNI Data Collection System and is drawn from 6 centres and is drawn from 4,734 counselling appointments and 4,413 helpline contacts.

  • The RCNI received funding from the Department of Justice and Equality in 2020 which made this analysis possible.