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.’ 

Rape Crisis Network Ireland Calls For Action To End Men’s Violence Against Women

The murder of Ashling Murphy has drawn universal focus on what we can do as a nation to combat violence against women and girls. We honour Ashling with our commitment to end men’s violence against women. 

Clíona Saidlear, RCNI executive Director said:

We have not yet built and secured an infrastructure commensurate with the scale of the problem of men’s violence against women but this is the moment that government can choose to deliver. If, as has been claimed repeatedly this week, this is a ‘watershed’ moment, we must lay out clearly the changes we need.’  

 A review of the infrastructure that supports survivors of domestic and sexual violence is where we start. The DSGBV audit that was completed last summer has yet to be actioned.  

 

Minister 

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee has been a determined advocate on violence against women while she has been in office. From Department of Justice-led public awareness campaigns such as #StillHere and #NoExcuses, to the Supporting The Victim’s Journey initiative implementing the recommendations put forward in Tom O’Malley’s report Review of Protections for Vulnerable Witnesses In the Investigation and Prosecution of Sexual Offences, she has been a proactive and dynamic leader and we commend her for her efforts.  

RCNI supports the development of dedicated Ministry to address men’s Violence Against Women to ensure that the type of leadership shown by Minister McEntee remains structured into Government in the coming decades. The Ministry would be responsible for funding, supports and resources from Government as well ensuring the building of knowledge and expertise, fostering and enabling learning and solutions. 

 

Knowledge and Expertise 

The DSGBV Government audit of 2021 recommended a DSGBV Office that would include ‘the provision of supports to services and policy makers; opportunities to reflect, learn and continually improve effectiveness, support to develop relationships, skills and innovation and the provision of spaces for the “frank conversations” that are necessary from time to time to reach agreement on difficult issue.’ We need clarity from the government on how the forthcoming National Strategy is going to respond to the findings of the Audit.  

It is vital that the knowledge and expertise accrued by NGOs working in DSGBV frontline services informs this Ministry’s decisions. NGOs and professionals should be provided with the means that will enable them to dedicate adequate staff time and resources to the vital work of evidence building, collaboration and developing solutions.  

 

Actions

Currently funding for frontline services that support women affected by violence is ad hoc and insecure.  

  • Adequacy of Funding for Survivors: There is currently year-long waiting lists for survivors seeking therapy in Rape Crisis Centres around the country and these lists are growing.  
  • Funding must be multiannual and sustained. In order for Centres to provide survivors with a commitment to remain with them in their journey in confronting the impact of the trauma they carry in their lives, funding must be secure and sustainable to ensure retention of staff and specialization.  
  • Developing evidence and solutions: building specialization to understand and develop solutions to rape culture, rape myths and systemic hurdles, requires secure employment conditions to enable the development of the skills needed to build evidence and analysis.  
  • Training: All professionals responding to sexual violence with the appropriate specialisation. This includes specialisation for counsellors and therapists. The profession must be regulated and the sector resourced to set, train in and meet professional standards. 
  • Advocacy:  Every survivor engaging with the criminal justice system is entitled to a professional advocate. Government must fund the Rape Crisis National Advocacy programme pilot to transform the current volunteer led services to this professional footing.  
  • Culture: the Department of Education must develop and implement a national policy on sexual harassment and assault in schools.  
  • Statistics: All sectors and agencies must deliver comprehensive statistical data on the parts of the problem that are visible to them. This action must be prioritised and resourced.  
  • The government must continue to support the CSO work in developing the national Sexual Violence survey and repeating it on a regular basis.  

 

Recently published RCNI reports

Sustaining the Sector, Respecting the Survivor: RCNI Publishes Annual Statistics 2020

On Thursday 7 October,  Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RCNI) released its Annual Statistics 2020 report.

RCNI represents seven Rape Crisis Centres around Ireland and collates annual statistics on who is accessing RCC helplines, appointments, and accompaniments, why they are using services, and what kinds of sexual abuse they have been subjected to.  

The findings for 2020 indicate that regional Rape Crisis Centres are facing an emergency situation in which chronic underfunding is leading to an inability to train, recruit and retain counsellors resulting in long waiting lists for survivors in urgent need of support, in which local helplines whose existence rely solely on fundraising are frequently being used by survivors to replace or supplement a planned programme of counselling and in which these essential services are dependent on annual funding that is uncertain, inadequate and unstable. 

Said RCNI National Data Coordinator Elaine Mears: 

‘This data indicates that regional helplines became a lifeline for many survivors during the pandemic. We found a 22% increase in helpline usage with 13,068 people contacting these services and, most tellingly, a 71% increase in time spent on helpline calls. Furthermore, the intensity and length of the calls indicate that, rather than seeking information and referrals, the helplines are being used to access counselling by people carrying a high level of trauma. Year on year our Centres have seen increases in demand: in the last 10 years we have seen a 100% increase in contacts to Helplines, a 63% increase in appointments provided by RCCs, and a 30% increase in the number of survivors and supporters attending RCCs – these figures indicate that when seeking help people want their first point of contact to be local and that regional services provide an indispensable and integral service to their communities.’ 

Said RCNI Executive Director Dr Cliona Saidlear: 

‘While 2020 was an incredibly traumatic year that no doubt triggered a surge in demand for support from survivors, these figures are part of a pattern of increased need without a concomitant increase in funding. Our sector is consistently expected to deliver supports at lower costs: after a decade of austerity, by 2019 we were still struggling to reach 2008 levels of funding. We now call on the Government to commit to a programme of multiannual funding so that Rape Crisis Centres can bolster their essential helpline services, can train more specialised counsellors to reduce waiting lists and can offer survivors the help and support that they need and that they deserve.’ 

In spite of one in three women and one in four men being victims of sexual violence in their lifetime, in spite of Ireland’s human rights obligations under the Istanbul Convention, in spite of a global pandemic that made the lives of women and girls even more unsafe, the Irish state still needs to do more to respond adequately to the needs of victims of sexual violence.

The full report is available here.

‘Storm and Stress: An Exploration of Sexual Harassment Amongst Adolescents’ To Be Launched This Month

Rape Crisis Network Ireland is delighted to announce that it will launch its new report ‘Storm and Stress: An Exploration of Sexual Harassment Amongst Adolescents’ on Thursday 29 July at 2pm.  

The online event will be hosted by RCNI executive director Dr Clíona Saidléar and will include contributions from Dr Conor O’Mahony, Government Special Rapporteur on Child Protection, and Dr Niall Muldoon, Ombudsman for Children.  Author of the report, Dr Michelle Walsh  will present the findings of her research study and will answer questions, followed by a panel discussion. 

Early intervention in children’s lives is the strongest commitment we can make to prevention and protection from sexual violence and understanding the experience of adolescents is the first step to shaping interventions that work. We hope that you will join us to launch this vital report on Irish adolescents’ experiences and understanding of sexual harassment within their peer communities, and the responses required to address it. 

You can register for the webinar here