Concern as Tusla in the dark on whether it has conducted any joint interviews with Guards on Child sexual Violence

Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RCNI) Press Release
Embargoed midnight 26th November 2018
Concern as Tusla in the dark on whether it has conducted any joint interviews with Guards on Child sexual Violence
RCNI call on Minister Zappone for clarity following her latest response to a parliamentary question from Deputy Clare Daly to assure us that Tusla the Child and Family Agency is in fact engaged in specialist child interviewing where there are concerns regarding child sexual violence.
Asked if Tusla could say how many specialist joint Tusla an Garda Siochana interviews of child abuse allegations they took part in in 2018, the Minister conveyed the Child and Family Agency’s response that ‘they do not collect the information’.
We are concerned at this absence of knowledge Tusla would appear to have of its own practices.
What we know from an earlier Ministerial written answer to Deputy Daly on the 13th of November is that there were currently 12 specialist interviewers in Tusla and she anticipated 29 to be fully trained and available by January 2019. In addition, the Minister announced the piloting of specialist child centres in 2019 to deliver a multiagency specialist response to children where there are concerns of sexual violence. These developments are to be welcomed. 
In terms of the handling of referrals, the Minister stated, on the 11th of October that ‘once a report of child sexual abuse has been screened by a duty social worker, a strategy meeting is held to decide which service is most suitable for the child. One of the available options is a Joint Specialist Interview with Gardaí taking the lead role.’ The Minister further states that these interviews are ‘integral’.
We assume that the voice of the child will be central and critical in almost all child sexual violence cases. Joint Specialist interviews, in most cases, will be the most appropriate and effective way to hear the voice of the child.
Tusla received 770 Child sexual abuse allegations in the first quarter of 2018 alone, (we can assume approx. 3,000 referrals per annum) yet hold no information on how many of these cases were treated as child protection matters with joint specialist interviews subsequently conducted. We have to ask the Minister to reassure us that potentially at risk children in Ireland today are being heard by Tusla, the Child and Family Agency.
 
Notes
Reference numbers for Parliamentary Questions referred to
21st November 48562/18
13th November 46602/18
11th October 41672/18

‘ONE HOUSE’ CHILD-CENTRED SPECIALIST CHILD-ABUSE RESPONSE TO OPEN IN 2019

RCNI welcome the launch today by Dr Katherine Zappone TD, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, in conjunction with the Minister for Health Simon Harris TD and the Minister for Justice and Equality Charlie Flanagan TD, of a pilot ‘One House’ centre for children who have been sexually abused.

RCNI commend the three Ministers for this initiative. The pilot, if successful, will address many of the current serious concerns we have for how the state is meeting the needs of children who experience sexual abuse.

RCNI Executive Director, Dr Clíona Saidléar said, ‘we can’t continue to fail children who experience child abuse, this pilot has the potential to deliver, for the first time dedicated wrap-around specialisation to this area of child protection. This is long overdue. We know from adult survivors of child sexual abuse that the process of reporting as children was often deeply traumatising, leaving them feeling disbelieved and isolated and with no follow up supports in place.

‘The standard aspired to, of joint interviewing and a co-ordinated approach between Tusla and the Gardaí to child abuse is, in many cases, simply not the reality faced by families engaging with the authorities to seek support and protection for their children. This pilot is a new approach based on well-established best international practice, which seeks to ensure the aspiration of a child-centred response where the child receives support not further trauma, becomes a reality.

In parallel with this initiative, RCNI support the Dept. of Justice and Equality’s work to develop the Bill to establish a Special Court to replace the poorly equipped Family Courts in this matter. We would also urge the Ministers to look at increased transparency and accountability at every stage of the process in the interest of the children, including the operation of the in camera rule.

RCNI press release – Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Bill 2018

 
RCNI urges TDs to ensure survivors of rape are empowered in their decision making within the General Scheme of the Health (Termination of Pregnancy) Bill 2018 debated at second stage in Dáil Éireann on Thursday October 4th
 
4th October 2018
 
RCNI call on legislators to ensure that the Health (Termination of Pregnancy) Bill is survivor-centred. The Bill should provide for the voice of the patient in abortion care and that requirements should not impede access to health care for survivors of rape.
 
A rape survivor’s perception of their own wellbeing must inform access. 
 
It is proposed that a termination of pregnancy may be carried out where two medical practitioners certify that there is a risk to the life, or of serious harm to the health, of the pregnant person (Section 10). The certifying medical practitioners are currently not required to consult with the pregnant person on their own perception of the risks of harm.
 
Clíona Saidléar, RCNI Executive Director said, “Many of those accessing abortion care under Section 10 will be survivors of rape and/or people living in coercive relationships. Any over-medicalisation of the decision-making process has the potential to restrict access and distances a survivor of rape further from control over their own body. We would urge legislators to ensure that the opinion of the pregnant person is included throughout this legislation.”
 
Further Section 13 provides for terminations where a medical practitioner certifies that the pregnancy concerned has not exceeded 12 weeks since the patient’s last menstrual period. Following this certification, a mandatory 3 day waiting period is required before an abortion can be accessed.
 
“We believe this is an unnecessary barrier to medical care which will prolong the harm and suffering of the survivor,” Dr. Saidléar said. “We must ensure the least traumatic and most empowered pathway to care and therefore urge the removal of unnecessary barriers and delays in accessing Section 13. Survivor-centred legislation will ensure the greatest possible recovery for those pregnant following rape who decide on a termination.”
 

HIQA Report reveals Tusla dysfunction in responding to reports of risks of sexual violence to children

Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RCNI) welcoming the HIQA report on Tusla’s handling of retrospective reporting supported Minister Zappone’s plan for immediate structures to action the recommendations and calls for child-centred and survivor-centred action.

Clíona Saidléar, RCNI Executive Director said, ‘what survivors of past sexual violence often want is to know that no child will be harmed by the person who committed these crimes against themselves. It is reassuring and empowering to know that there is an agency and a set of professionals who are ensuring that what you, the survivor, knows is making a difference. This child protection is the intention of retrospective reporting and as survivors have been telling us, HIQA now confirms, it is not consistency happening.

For those survivors who have given their story to Tusla, it is heart-breaking. The catastrophic lack of social workers in Tusla, the absence of specialisation for social workers in sexual violence and the poor fit between a social worker’s responsibility and the skills required to handle retrospective reporting all adds up to deliver failure to survivors of sexual violence and to children.

It is also clear that the legislative basis to support Tusla’s work in child protection under the Child Care Act is flawed. What is described in the HIQA report is as much an inevitable outcome of poor laws as it is of lack of resources and inappropriate practice. RCNI are calling on government:

  • to prioritise the reform of the Child Care Act 1991 which is currently under review,
  • to set up a multiagency guidance committee to develop shared practice guidance across relevant professionals and agencies such as exists for SATUs,
  • to redouble efforts to develop co-location of child protection responses and to examine the development of stand-alone retrospective reporting child protection co-location responses,
  • To require adequate sexual violence training for all general social workers and require specialisation for those working in this area,
  • To ensure appropriate oversight and clinical governance of any outsourcing of child protection assessments,
  • To examine the location of adult sexual violence responses within child protection services.

For information:
Clíona Saidléar
087 2196447

Video launch – Amal: a journey through conflict, rape and the 8th amendment

Today RCNI are releasing a video telling the story of Amal’s journey to the UK to access an abortion following gang rape. We are asking people to vote YES on Friday so that others will have a very different story than Amal’s.

Amal’s story:
Amal was an asylum seeker who arrived here fleeing her central African country where she had been repeatedly raped as she escaped conflict. Upon arriving here she found out she was pregnant. She was approximately 7-8 weeks along at that point. Amal was horrified and deeply traumatised by the fact of her pregnancy and asked for a termination.

Amal was under 18, a child, now living in direct provision with no independent means and so entirely dependent on the state. See also spoke little English.
Amal needed help with information and making arrangements. Amal needed formal papers to allow her to travel to leave Ireland, go to England and return. Amal had no money. Amal had arrived with some family but they too were asylum seekers without the means to assist her.

Those responsible for Amal and caring for her felt constrained by the 8th amendment in what they could do. By the time legal arguments were resolved and all professionals and statutory authorities had done what they could and needed to do to vindicate both her right to travel and what was very clearly her real emotional and psychological need to have an abortion, more than 14 weeks had passed. Amal endured, in great distress, throughout that period and now faced into a late term abortion.

The video is narrated by the Rape Crisis Support worker who accompanied Amal in her personal capacity, as no statutory professional felt they could do so under the 8th amendment.

Amal is now married and a mother, she has a vote and gave her permission for us to tell her story.

Dr Clíona Saidléar, RCNI executive director said, ‘RCNI are asking for you to vote yes so that when a rape victim finds out they are pregnant they can be supported here in Ireland. If we vote yes and the government brings in the promised 12 week legislation, tomorrow’s Amal will be under the care of a doctor who can inform, prescribe and supervise the abortion pill if that is what the survivor decides. There won’t be the inordinate delay, trauma and shame, necessitated by the 8th amendment, added on top of the trauma a rape victim is already suffering.

‘We need to support rape victims here, at home, under the care of their doctors, and supported by their loved ones. Please vote Yes on Friday.’
Note: Amal is not her real name, some details have been changed to maintain her confidentiality

https://vimeo.com/271093596

For information:
Clíona Saidléar – 087 2196447

Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RCNI) Press Release
21 May 2018

RCNI call for clarity on child sexual violence issues

RCNI are concerned at the series of issues in child protection coming to light as matters relating to Scouting Ireland and child protection investigations are being uncovered and understood.

From the report in the Irish Times on the 24th of April 2018, outlining the steps taken by the three agencies with regards a serious child protection matter, we need to ask a number of questions.

Clíona Saidléar, RCNI Executive Director said, ‘We call on Minister Zappone to clarify what actions are expected of those with responsibility for child safety and wellbeing, upon a determination by Tusla of ‘unfounded’ concerning an allegation of child sexual abuse?

‘Scouting Ireland tell us that, ‘on the basis’ of the Tusla written notification to them that they had determined the child sexual abuse allegation was ‘unfounded’, reinstated a person who was still under Garda investigation. It is deeply concerning that our child protection agency could have been understood to have ‘cleared’ someone still under investigation by an Garda Siochána.

‘What liaison is there between the Gardaí and Tusla when Tusla make such a determination? Did the Tusla letter to Scouting Ireland notify the organisation that a criminal investigation process was separate and possibly ongoing? Did they indicate that an ‘unfounded’ determination was not the same as saying that they had assessed or even ‘cleared’ the person in question?

‘As organisations with responsibility for the safety and wellbeing of children we need to have clarity on what branch of the state we defer to on these matter, if at all.’

The statistics – How many cases are deemed ‘unfounded’?

In a response to a journalists’ recent FoI, Tusla stated that they do not collate their rate of founded/unfounded determinations. A number of Oireachtas members have asked Tusla for their numbers on founded/unfounded determinations. These answers have been difficult to decipher but if we understand the latest response to a parliamentary question properly, Tusla makes ‘referrals’ in, on average, only 5% of adult historical reports regarding those who may continue to pose a risk to children. What proportion of child cases are deemed ‘unfounded’ is still not a figure that would appear to be available to the Oireachtas or the public.

Link to latest PQ see 547 & 548 http://oireachtasdebates.oireachtas.ie/debates%20authoring/debateswebpack.nsf/takes/dail2018032700082?opendocument#WRZ04700

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For more information

Clíona Saidléar, 087 2196447

24th April 2018

RCNI appalled by incident of ‘rape list’ in school toilets and call for urgent action

Today it was revealed that a school in Cork found a list of girls’ names written on the wall of the boy’s toilets with an invitation to vote with ticks for the one that would then be subjected to rape. The school reacted promptly but this incident leaves many questions. RCNI hope both those directly involved and the whole school community are receiving the support and appropriate response they need.

Clíona Saidléar, Executive Director of RCNI said, ‘the threat to rape a child is such a serious matter and should be considered by the Gardaí and an investigation opened if appropriate. This story comes a day after rugby pundit Willie John McBride on an RTE radio programme described sexist, disrespectful and violent behaviour by male sports stars as mere silliness for which no young man should be held accountable. Is it any wonder our young boys think threats to rape are a joke?

‘RCNI acknowledge that the Minister for Education and Skills Minister Bruton has announced a review of the sex education curriculum in all schools, ensuring consent education is available. This is clearly urgent and important.

‘We would also urge him to ensure schools and parents can no longer exempt their children from this right to be informed. The Provision of Objective Sex Education Bill 2018 to be debated on the 18th of April in the Dáil seeks to do that.

‘The school in question appear to have responded promptly and are proactively engaging with the whole school community but it must be acknowledged they do so in a vacuum. It may be unfair to judge this schools’ response to this crisis as no national policy or guidance exists to deal with this situation. RCNI have been advocating for a safe to learn strategy since 2013 when the Action Plan on Bullying excluded sexual harassment from its area of concern. There is no blue print for this school to follow. We would urge the Minister to address this gap in school supports urgently, both in our duty to provide care and a safe learning environment and as a matter of employment rights of the staff.’

Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RCNI) Press release
12th April 2018

For information
Clíona Saidléar 087 2196447

Pre-recorded Direct Evidence and Cross-Examinations Should Be Alternatives to Live Evidence for Vulnerable Witnesses

Protections for Vulnerable Witnesses Like Rape Victims Must Start Well Before the Court Room

In a timely report, a Multi-Agency Group of experts, convened by Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RCNI), has recommended that the use of pre-recorded evidence should be increased and that pre-recorded cross-examination should be piloted in Irish courts in order to better protect and support vulnerable witnesses, as has been done successfully in England and Wales.

“Our criminal justice system is based on the premise that face-to-face live evidence at trial is the best evidence which can be obtained,” said Caroline Counihan BL, RCNI’s Legal Director. “Modern psychological research does not support this conclusion, particularly since the advent of high resolution pre-recorded video and video-link solutions.”

“Pre-recording a Garda statement soon after a complaint has been made maximises the potential of the witness to recall, fully and accurately, what happened, to give his or her best evidence and to help minimise the risk of secondary traumatisation by reducing exposure to the adversarial criminal justice process itself,” she said. “In our view, it is time that the limitations of the live evidence only approach – often months or years after the alleged crime took place – were addressed.”

The Vulnerable Witnesses Multi-Agency Group was convened by Caroline Counihan and includes senior representatives from the Bar, Academia, An Garda Síochána, the Courts Services as well as a number of NGOs. It has been working for over a year on the report.
It strongly recommends that pre-trial hearings should be placed on a statutory footing and that they should be the primary means through which special protection needs are determined.

The Group makes 33 recommendations in all, across eight headings in the report – Hearing Every Voice – Towards a new Strategy on Vulnerable Witnesses in Legal Proceedings.

RCNI welcomes commitments made by the Minister to review all aspects of sexual assault cases in the wake of the recent Belfast rape trial, and it looks forward to working with him to ensure that vulnerable witnesses are given the best protections possible, without endangering the right to a fair trial of the defendant.

“With the Belfast trial we saw how difficult the system can be on the witnesses,” Cliona Saidlear, said Director of RCNI. “We know that we can make it better and that vulnerable witnesses can have a less traumatising experience in giving vital evidence.”

“Stronger, individually tailored protections will help ensure the best evidence is obtained, benefitting the criminal justice system as a whole,” she continued. “The rights of the witness and the defendant within the legal system are not always or necessarily in direct competition with each other. The system of giving live evidence, often under arduous cross-examination, does not work well for many vulnerable witnesses because their voices are not heard as they should be. It does not work for the whole community either because it means that fewer perpetrators are held accountable.”

The Multi-Agency Group has recommended that if pre-recorded statements and examinations are to become a fair and effective alternative for vulnerable witnesses, it is vital that their introduction is underpinned by new statutory provisions regulating pre-trial hearings and provisions governing disclosure.

The group has also recommended that continuing professional development training programmes on issues relevant to vulnerable witnesses and accused must be made available and resourced adequately, in particular for judges, legal professionals and members of An Garda Síochána. It said that it welcomed advanced advocacy courses already in place for barristers which examine such topics as how to cross-examine without repetition, without using obscure language and “without hectoring, lecturing, demeaning or otherwise badgering the witness”.

Within their recommendations, the Multi-Agency Group takes into account all witnesses in need of special support and protection. These include children, people with an intellectual disability or mental health difficulty, victims of sexual or domestic violence, and those who may not necessarily be identified as needing the extra protection of special measures under current legislation.

The conclusions and recommendations also acknowledge some very positive developments in recent times in the protection of vulnerable witnesses, on the part of judges, legal professionals and An Garda Síochána as well as on the part of Government.

For more information contact: Edel Hackett, Tel: 087-2935207

Not Just in the Court Room – Key Recommendations from Reporting to Trial

  • The use of pre-recorded evidence and the giving of evidence by video-link should be increased.
  • Pre-recorded cross-examination should be piloted.
  • Pre-trial hearings should be placed on a statutory footing.
  • Additional protections or “special measures” should be available to vulnerable accused persons as well as vulnerable victims and other witnesses;
  • With regard to child witnesses, specialist approaches from other jurisdictions should be further explored;
  • Professional training on facilitating vulnerable witnesses should be enhanced and funded.
  • The complicated issue of delay should be addressed so that delays between initial complaints and any hearings are reduced as far as possible
  • The use of professional intermediaries qualified to assist the court should be examined further; existing statutory provisions in this area should be extended to allow for answers as well as questions to be communicated via an intermediary.
  • A new Vulnerable Witnesses in Legal Proceedings Initiative should be established and led by Government, which is aimed at making the criminal justice system as accessible as possible for all vulnerable witnesses

Members of the Vulnerable Witnesses Multi-Agency Working Group

Caroline Counihan, RCNI (Group Co-Ordinator), Rape Crisis Network Ireland
Mary Rose Gearty SC, Council of the Bar of Ireland
Joan O’Mahony, Solicitor
Miriam Delahunt BL, PhD
Alan Cusack BCL, LLM, PhD, Lecturer in Law, University of Limerick
Conor Hanly BA, LLB, LLM (NUI), LLM, JSD (Yale), Lecturer in Law, NUIG Galway School of Law
Inspector Michael Lynch, An Garda Síochána
Eamonn Doherty, Courts Service
Suzy Byrne, National Advocacy Service
Eve Farrelly, Cari
Noeline Blackwell, Dublin Rape Crisis Centre
Caitriona Gleeson, SAFE Ireland
Yvonne O’Sullivan, Inclusion Ireland

RCNI reach out to all survivors and their supporter following the verdict in the Belfast rape trial

Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RCNI) Press Release

28th March 2018

RCNI reach out to all survivors and their supporter following the verdict in the Belfast rape trial

The Belfast trial of Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding Blane McIlroy and Rory Harrison has had a profound impact. All four were acquitted on all charges after a relatively short period of reflection by the jury.
The verdict notwithstanding we want to acknowledge and respond to the impact on everyone who has followed this trail in the media but particularly for survivors. This has been a protracted sexual crime case with considerable public attention stretching almost daily over almost two months.

We want to say today to survivors of sexual crime that when you need us or are ready to talk about what happened to you we in Rape Crisis will be there for you, we believe you, and we will support you.

We have a range of supports available for both survivors and their supporters.

This includes a free accompaniment service for survivors who wish to report or even have a conversation with a Garda about reporting and if the case does proceed to every court date. Please contact your local rape crisis centre to ask about this service.

Contact details available on www.rapecrisishelp.ie

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Report Rape figures jump a shocking 28% according to new Crime Statistics release

Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RCNI) Press Release

28th March 2018

Report Rape figures jump a shocking 28% according to new Crime Statistics release

RCNI today welcome the CSO release of crime statistics ‘under reservation’ from An Garda Siochána for the first time since they were suspended at the end of 2016. We support the continued effort by all parties to ensure that these vital statistics become reliable and accurate reflections of reported crime in Ireland today.

RCNI call on government and all parties to ensure that, where we can have good data on sexual violence, we make every effort to ensure this evidence is accurate and available.

Clíona Saidléar, RCNI Executive Director said, ‘In 2017 all recorded sexual offences rose by almost 17% with rape up 28% and sexual assault (non-aggravated) up 15%. These are very significant increases.
RCNI recognise that the CSO is releasing these figures ‘under reservation’. This is a compromise between having the continued unacceptable absence of all statistics and releasing some that have not yet reached an acceptable standard but which give us a good indication of what those numbers are. The large changes in reporting numbers in sexual offences from 2016 – 2017 tell us why this release, even if under reservation, is so important.

Saidléar continued, ‘We owe all victims of crime dignity, respect and truth. The CSO were not satisfied that the headcount of reported crimes and classification of reports was dependable, and so took the decision to cease releasing knowingly inaccurate statistics. This was the only decision possible under basic data governance standards. RCNI made this same decision with our own Rape Crisis Data in 2016 as the complete lack of funding from government meant that the RCNI could not support standardisation and verification processes.

‘To be able to say anything truthful or meaningful through statistical data you have to be able to say that the base data entering the system at every point is consistent, standardised, accurate and verified. To talk about data in statistical terms you also need enough data to make any sort of meaningful contribution to knowledge, indeed you also have to have the numbers to ensure safety and privacy for your data subject. This is the fundamental ethics of data for statistical purposes.’

‘The current situation on sexual violence statistics in Ireland means that we have all too little statistical insights into sexual violence. Given the nature of the crime in our culture this lack of insight arises, in part, out of the silence around the issue. These crime statistics only represent those who report and are therefore the tip of the iceberg. But in the places where survivors make themselves known to us, such as in reporting a crime or contacting and a rape crisis centre, we must take seriously our duty to learn and evidence as much as it can in an appropriate, legal and respectful manner. We must not continue to shape our responses and prevention strategies in the absence of such basic knowledge.’

Notes
Crime Statistics annual to Q4 2016 and 2017 http://www.cso.ie/en/releasesandpublications/ep/p-rc/recordedcrimeq42017/additionalstatisticaltables/#d.en.157454
RCNI annual rape crisis statistics 2004 – 2015 available on www.rcni.ie under publications

For more information
Cliona Saidlear on 087 2196447
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