Rape Crisis Network Ireland calls for an independent authority on Domestic, Sexual and Gender based violence  

On Monday January 30 2023 Rape Crisis Network Ireland contributed to a meeting with GREVIO to inform their examination of Ireland’s response to combatting Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based Violence (DSGBV). RCNI highlighted in particular the concern that there are still no plans to put in place independent monitoring and evaluation mechanisms. 

GREVIO is the international independent expert body responsible for monitoring the implementation of the Council of Europe’s Istanbul Convention (IC). This is the first and crucial opportunity for NGOs to report directly to GREVIO representatives on what they have observed that the Irish State has done, is doing and will need to do in the future to respond effectively to rising levels of DSGBV.  

Fundamental to the State response to DSGBV is Zero Tolerance, the Government’s Third National Domestic and Gender-based Violence Strategy’ published in 2022. RCNI is concerned that this strategy does not include provision for independent monitoring. We call on GREVIO to assess the need to establish such a role, like an Ombudsman for DSGBV. This post would independently monitor and scrutinise the coordination and implementation of policy and practice. It would be given powers and independence in legislation so that it can do this work without fear or interference and it would be survivor-centred and transparent. Currently external evaluation rests with frontline NGOs who are seeking to hold accountable the very bodies they rely on for funding and their continued existence.

Said RCNI Executive Director, Clíona Saidléar: 

The State has failed thus far to initiate, resource and place on a statutory footing a mechanism for independently monitoring and evaluating the implementation of policies to prevent and combat violence against women. The Istanbul Convention not only requires the securing of a coordination body such as is being devised right now, but also effective monitoring and evaluation. We have learnt many times over in Ireland, particularly around sexual violence, that leaving authorities to police themselves is bad practice. We cannot begin this new page in addressing sexual violence by replicating old and failed practices. This would be a lost opportunity in this government’s determination to transform our response to DSGBV – and for RCNI we fear a fatal flaw.’ 

Other recommendations include:  

  • Overhaul of funding: So far, the Irish State has wholly failed to put in place adequate, nationally planned, equitable and transparent funding to respond to sexual violence up to and including 2023 allocation mechanisms and additional funding under the new strategy. 
  • A dedicated strategy for the collection of DSGBV administrative data. The achieving of gold standard data collection has been a high-level goal in all national strategies to date and this has not been achieved. 
  • The development of a training strategy and curricula for mandatory initial and in-service training for all relevant professionals stipulated by GREVIO, to include the digital and gendered dimensions of sexual violence. The Convention requires these to be developed with sexual and domestic violence specialists.  
  • Improving access to justice, including the implementation of policies and provision of resources to prioritise, fast track and case manage cases involving any form of violence against women, including attempted violence, psychological and cyber violence. 
  • The removal of the Irish state’s reservation on compensation. It is a mark of shame for Ireland that we continue to exempt ourselves from offering this mark of dignity and acknowledgement to survivors as recognised under the Convention. Adequate State compensation must be awarded, proactively, to those who have sustained serious bodily injury or impairment of health, especially when perpetrated by State Actors. 



  1. RCNI and Safe Ireland’s specialist DSGBV Shadow Report to GREVIO is available here 
  2. GREVIO: the Group of Experts on Action Against Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence. GREVIO comprises between 10 and 15 members, depending on the number of Parties to the Convention, and takes into account a gender and geographical balance, as well as multidisciplinary expertise in the area of human rights, gender equality, violence against women and domestic violence or in the assistance to and protection of victims.  
  3. The Istanbul Convention also known as Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence 
  4. Rape Crisis Network Ireland is a specialist policy agency on sexual violence, founded, owned and governed by our member Rape Crisis Centres. We have been serving survivors’ interests and working towards the prevention of all forms of sexual violence since 1985.  
  5. RCNI builds and sustains considerable expertise to identify, make the case for, and implement priorities for a whole-of society and Government response to sexual violence. 
  6. Article 10 of the Istanbul Convention Co-ordinating body (1) Parties shall designate or establish one or more official bodies responsible for the co-ordination, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of policies and measures to prevent and combat all forms of violence covered by this Convention. These bodies shall co‐ordinate the collection of data as referred to in Article11, analyse and disseminate its results. (2) Parties shall ensure that the bodies designated or established pursuant to this article receive information of a general nature on measures taken pursuant to Chapter VIII.  

‘A Safer Space: Counselling Survivors of Sexual Violence Online’  Launched

Rape Crisis Network Ireland is pleased to launch the report ‘A Safer Space: Counselling Survivors of Sexual Violence Online’ to coincide with annual international 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence campaign. The report can be downloaded here

During the Covid-19 pandemic support services for survivors of sexual violence were forced to physically close and trauma counselling services moved online. In April 2021, Rape Crisis Network Ireland undertook a Clinical Innovation Project (CIP) called Counselling Survivors On- and Offline led by Dr Michelle Walsh and funded by Rethink Ireland.  The research included an online survey on remote counselling for survivors of sexual violence that aimed to discover levels of satisfaction among survivors with counselling before and during the pandemic and to find out more broadly whether or not the quality and safety of online counselling for survivors of sexual violence meets rights and expectations.  

The report ‘A Safer Space: Counselling Survivors of Sexual Violence Online’ presents the findings from survivors and counsellors of remote counselling in their own words and supported by data garnered from the project.  

Key findings 

  • 93% of survivors of sexual violence feel less supported receiving remote counselling than face-to-face counselling. 
  • 80% of survivors said that they did not have access to safe and/or private space for remote counselling. 
  • 93% of survivors said that face-to-face counselling was the preferred option 
  • 69% of survivors said they feel better supported in face-to-face counselling 
  • 25-35% of survivors surveyed wanted to continue to use blended counselling following the lock-down. 
  • Only 7% of survivors of sexual violence feel more supported receiving counselling remotely. 
  • Remote counselling is not a safe option for most survivors of sexual violence  


  • All survivors of sexual violence to have access to face-to-face counselling  
  • Individual assessment, survivor-centred guidelines and additional specialist training and supervision to be developed in order to render remote or blended counselling safe. 
  • Standards and guidance for specialist professional counsellors to be introduced 
  • A national strategy for regulation of specialist counselling for survivors of sexual violence to be developed including standards for training and accreditation of specialist and generalist counsellors, and for specialist clinical supervisors  
  • Survivor-centred and evidence-based standards for blended counselling to be established  


The report indicates that the safe spaces provided by rape crisis centres and counselling services and practices offer safety that cannot be provided remotely. There are qualities inherent to in-person counselling that both survivors and counsellors believe cannot be easily replicated online, especially when establishing new counselling relationships.  

Survivors’ views and needs are at the foreground of the CIP and the strong engagement of both survivors, counsellors and stakeholders in the project indicates the high degree of value placed in the research.  The ethical implications of this and other findings are that remote counselling on its own cannot be recommended for survivors of sexual violence. 

Patterns of contact change but patterns of abuse stay the same

Rape Crisis Network Ireland Launches Rape Crisis Statistics 2021 Report  

Patterns of contact with rape crisis services are changing but patterns of abuse stay the same is the message of Rape Crisis Network Ireland’s Rape Crisis Statistics 2021 report.

This year’s report examines data gleaned over three years – 2019, 2020 and 2021 – to track the story of how survivors and services negotiated the upheaval of the Covid pandemic. The report, comprised of findings from seven RCCs around the country, reveals that while 2020 saw a massive surge in contacts to RCCs from those seeking support, numbers in 2021 did not return to pre-pandemic levels. However, patterns of contact did change with a 27% increase in length of time spent on calls to Helplines and an 18% increase in appointments for counselling and support fulfilled  

Figures in brief 

In 2021  

  • 11,414 helpline contacts were made 
  • 1,341 people took up counselling and support 
  • 14,280 appointments for counselling and support were fulfilled 
  • 183 survivors were accompanied to Sexual Assault Trauma Units (SATU), court and garda appointments

While numbers of people seeking support after sexual violence continue to increase year-on-year, patterns of abuse remain the same.  

  • Sexual violence is a gendered crime which is predominantly perpetrated by boys/ men (making up 97% of perpetrators) against girls/women (92% of survivors).  
  • 9% of survivors were under the age of 18 
  • 83% of perpetrators were over the age of 18 
  • Vulnerability to sexual violence is greatest for both girls and boys when they are in childhood 
  • Boys’ vulnerability to sexual violence decreases significantly as they grow into adulthood whereas vulnerability to sexual violence decreases as they grow into adulthood, but not as significantly as boys’  
  • Children subjected to sexual violence which began when they were under the age of 13 were most likely to be sexually assaulted (67%), whereas children subjected to the sexual violence which began when they were aged 13 to 17 were most likely to be raped (62%). 
  • Survivors of sexual violence in adulthood were more likely to be raped (75%). 
  • Children who were abused when under the age of 13 most commonly disclose that the sexual violence was perpetrated over a number of years 
  • 54% of survivors disclosed that they had been subjected to additional forms of violence occurring at the same time as the sexual violence 

Says Elaine Mears, RCNI Data and Privacy Manager 

‘Throughout Covid-19 a key piece of learning was how vital RCC Helpline services are and what a lifeline they are for people. This data confirms that. We know how hard that first contact can be which is why we must pay close attention to what works for survivors. The figures reveal that the majority of survivors access through self-referral (53%) and the majority seek out their local services directly. The Rape Crisis Centre model is to centre the survivor in how we shape our services. We do this because it works. It follows that national and international practice should reflect this standard also. 

‘It is also clear that the Centre is an important point of expertise and knowledge for professionals in the region who together provide the holistic set of responses to survivors. Rape Crisis Helplines at local level are currently not funded. We believe survivors patterns of access demand that we support and fund this local access and support.’ 

Says RCNI Executive Director Dr Clíona Saidléar  

‘The Minister of Justice, Helen McEntee’s ambitious Zero Tolerance National Strategy sets goals for professionals and agencies across society and government to engage and upskill in a concerted effort to end sexual violence. 

‘Every community that is activated to end sexual violence places additional demand on the expertise and support of specialist sexual violence services such as Rape Crisis Centres and the RCNI. We welcome that demand and the opportunity to create change. And that increased demand is evidenced here. We would also suggest that what we are seeing here is the success of the growing whole of community response. These vital supports must be state-funded to ensure both the success of the strategy and nationwide and equitable access to services.’  

The report is available to download here. 

RCNI Statement on Council of Europe’s Dublin Declaration

Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RCNI) commends the leadership of the Irish Minister for Justice, Ms Helen McEntee, in setting before her colleagues in the Council of Europe the Dublin Declaration on Domestic Sexual and Gender-based violence. We believe the shared vision and commitment here will enhance our work across Europe in ending domestic and sexual violence.

In particular, RCNI welcomes the Declaration’s commitment to survivor-centred approaches that adhere to the standards of the Istanbul Convention and the need for governments to work in partnership with their women’s rights NGOs that work and specialise in supporting victims of these crimes and that seek out solutions and best practice.

RCNI Welcomes Government’s Recommitment to Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based Violence in Budget 2023

RCNI welcomes the recommitment of this government and Minister Helen McEntee to the absolute prioritisation of Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based Violence (DSGBV) in Budget 2023. The €9m additional budget for the issue is very welcome with €7m of this is earmarked for services. However, the question remains for RCNI of how much of this funding will reach and impact the acute demands on sexual violence services. Much of this additional funding may already be earmarked to address the critical issue of increasing accommodation for domestic violence survivors outlined in the recently published National Strategy on DSGBV following the government accommodation review in February. 

After decades of chronic underfunding, supporting the holistic, specialist and timely responses that can meet survivors’ needs and protect their rights will not be fixed in one budget. In the details to follow this Budget Day we hope to be hearing specifics that tell us that the government has understood the urgent matters of capacity, sustainability and infrastructure, including capital investment, that the chronically under-resourced sector now needs to survive.

RCNI again reiterates our commitment to the ambition of the Minister’s zero tolerance strategy and welcomes the €2m budget assigned to the next phase of its implementation. The step change that is envisioned in the strategy will require insight, investment and capacity from all the stakeholders. The NGO specialists across the sector must be resourced to engage in partnership in this process to secure the transformation this government has understood is necessary to build a society free from sexual and domestic violence. 

We look forward to building on this impetus over the course of this strategy and the successive budgets over its lifetime. 

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