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

‘A Lot to Rebuild and A Lot to Begin’

Rape Crisis Network Ireland Responds to ‘Domestic, Sexual and Gender Based Violence: An Audit of Structures’

Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RCNI) welcomes today’s publication of Domestic, Sexual and Gender Based Violence: An Audit of Structures, commissioned by the Department of Justice in consultation with the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth. The publication sets out findings and recommendations arising from a review of the effectiveness of the current structures in place to oversee policy and its implementation in relation to Domestic, Sexual and Gender Based Violence (DSGBV). 

Said Clíona Saidléar, executive director of RCNI: 

‘As a frontline organisation, RCNI was happy to have been approached for our feedback in the initial stages of the Audit and what we see published today and hear from Government Ministers is a clear signal that sexual and domestic violence will now be truly prioritised for the first time by an Irish Government.’ 

She continued:  

‘We commend Minister of State for Civil and Criminal Law Hildegarde Naughton and Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth Roderic O’Gorman on their clear-sighted commitment to building an infrastructure that will connect survivors’ experiences on the ground right through to the heart of Government accountability. We would like to emphasis that the actions arising from this Audit must be addressed on a whole of society and cultural level: DSGBV can no longer be hidden away, it needs to remain in front of all of us and in sight of the whole of Government where the clear light of day can reach it.  We have a lot to rebuild and we have a lot to begin.’ 

The publication of the Audit comes as a result of a Programme for Government commitment to investigate how responsibility for domestic sexual and gender-based violence is segmented across different government agencies and its findings will inform the Third National Strategy to  tackle to Domestic, Sexual and Gender Based Violence that will be led by the Department of Justice and published at the end of 2021.  

‘Significant Progress Towards a Safer Online World’

RCNI Submission on the General Scheme of the forthcoming Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill 2020 

RCNI has published its submission to the Joint Committee on Tourism, Culture, Arts, Sports and Media on the General Scheme of the forthcoming Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill 2020. The submission includes a number of observations and recommendations that focus on the online service aspects of the General Scheme. RCNI welcomes the Bill and strongly recommends the establishment of an individual complaints mechanism and in addition to the measures outlined, it is our view that online safety issues should become the responsibility of a dedicated Online Safety Commissioner and that his/her office is resourced adequately to ensure that any individual can have their complaint taken up by the Media Commission described in Bill with minimum delay and attendant harm.  

Until the Harassment, Harmful Communications and Related Offences Act 2020 came into force in February 2021, we had few tools with which to sanction online sexual violence against adult victims, or to ensure that online service providers are regulated in such a way as to minimise the risks of such violence. While it is possible to charge many perpetrators of online sexual violence against children with an offence under the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017, there were very few offences which could be charged in relation to adult victims of similar abuses until the new Act was passed. 

However, more is needed by way of a legislative framework to help ensure online safety from many forms of online sexual violence and harassment is properly regulated. The Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill 2020  makes significant progress towards a safer online world and will work best if it is underpinned by a greater range of criminal offences which capture as many forms of online sexual violence as possible.  

Clarity around terminology is much needed: it is vital that “harmful online content” is defined clearly and unambiguously so that not only a legal professional but also an internet user or service provider can understand easily which content is illegal and which content though not (yet) illegal nevertheless may be defined as harmful online content. Our own view is that it should be stated clearly that online content be regarded as “harmful” if a reasonable person would consider it likely to have the effect of intimidating the person to whom it pertains.  

From the point of view of reducing the risks of online harm, primary prevention is better than the best possible secondary measures taken after the fact. Online safety should be built into new platforms, programs, and applications as far as possible from the beginning – by design, and this should be named as a distinct objective.   

RCNI welcomes very much the holistic approach taken to tackle online safety by the Bill. Online sexual harassment and abuse is a prevalent and ever-increasing form of sexual violence which is no less serious in its effects than any contact sexual violence. The Bill is reassuringly comprehensive and is by no means confined to the creation, implementation, revision and supervision of online safety codes but extends to primary prevention through safety by design, education, and policy developments. We hope that the recommendations outlined in our submission will be considered and acted upon and look forward to further consultation.  


Read the full submission here 

The Criminal Justice System Must Support Victims Of Sexual Violence In Every Way Possible

Response to Joint Oireachtas Committee for Justice Report on Victims’ Testimony in cases of rape and sexual assault 

Rape Crisis Network Ireland welcomes the report of the Joint Oireachtas Committee For Justice Report on Victim’s Testimony in Cases of Rape and Sexual Assault published last week and was pleased to have been invited to make a submission and oral presentation to the Committee. The criminal justice system can, and must, support victims of sexual violence in every way possible to give their best evidence, from the time of the offence to trial and beyond, and must ensure that their necessary participation takes place with the minimum risk of their being re-traumatised by the criminal justice process itself. 

The report includes a number of noteworthy recommendations. 

  • Recommendation 6: The Committee recommends the commencement of court familiarisation and court accompaniment services as a matter of urgency. 

RCNI is working with rape crisis centres and others on a proposal to pilot a National Advocacy Project whereby professionalised support and advocacy services run by specialist NGOs, e g rape crisis centres, would provide Garda and Court accompaniment as well as additional tailored individual support, both practical and emotional, from first contact to the end of the case and beyond.  

  • Recommendation 11: The Committee recommends that consent must be incorporated within the new RSE curriculum at both primary and secondary and that programmes of consent are rolled out at third level as a matter of urgency. 

RCNI echoes that targeted and effective education around consent should be implemented immediately. However, in light of recent RCNI research to be released in the coming months, it is imperative that a national policy on sexual harassment in secondary schools be designed and piloted as soon as is practicable. In addition to education on the importance and mechanisms of consent, this policy should encompass a critical look at how social norms and practices contribute to a culture that tolerates sexual harassment amongst children and young people at home, in school and in their social lives as well how the authorities need to take up responsibility for this environment.  

It is RCNI’s view that every victim of sexual violence who reports the offence to the police should be seen as an intrinsically vulnerable witness for the purposes of accessing supports specific to their situation and their capacity. As far as possible, the criminal justice system should identify and accommodate those needs appropriately. RCNI commends the Department of Justice on its ongoing implementation of Supporting a Victim’s Journey based on the recommendations of the O’Malley Report. We look forward to further collaboration to ensure that victim participation on which the whole system of criminal justice depends cannot and should not come at unbearable personal cost to the victims themselves. 

RCNI Welcomes the Criminal Procedure Bill’s Introduction of Statutory Preliminary Trial Hearings

Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RCNI) welcomes today’s announcement by  Minister of State for Law Reform, Youth Justice and Immigration, James Browne TD that new legislation to overhaul the operation of criminal trials has been passed by the Oireachtas. RCNI Executive Director Cliona Saidlear welcoming the Bill said, ‘this Bill is all about survivors getting justice and getting justice in a timely manner. 

The Criminal Procedure Bill provides for statutory preliminary trial hearings in criminal trials –a first in Irish law. The provision of preliminary trial hearings is a key recommendation of the Review of Protections for Vulnerable Witnesses in the Investigation and Prosecution of Sexual Offences (The O’Malley Report) and will have a significantly positive impact on survivors of domestic, sexual and gender based violence. 

Said Caroline Counihan, Legal Director of RCNI:  

‘Today is a big day for the RCNI as we have been recommending the introduction of preliminary trial hearings since 2008.  This legislation is very welcome and we are very encouraged that the Department of Justice is taking significant steps to implement “Supporting a Victims Journey”, Minister McEntee’s plan to support victims of Domestic, Sexual and Gender Based Violence.’ 

Ms Counihan continued: 

‘Preliminary trial hearings provide a number of benefits for survivors. They provide a place and time in advance of the trial to discuss and rule upon special measures to benefit victims at trial. When orders for special measures are granted, some of the stress and fear survivors feel about the impending trial is alleviated. Pre-trial hearings also ensure that many complex legal issues can be addressed before trial reducing the overall delay and before a case is heard and also, reducing uncertainty and resulting stress and anxiety for survivors awaiting trial. With fewer interruptions for these issues to be discussed, trials will run more smoothly and juries will find evidence easier to grasp and remember. The resulting reduction in the length of individual trials should also mean that more cases can be heard in a given period.’ 

The Bill will now be sent to the President to be signed into law. The RCNI looks forward to seeing the positive effects of this Bill once enacted and brought into force, and to working with the Department of Justice on further measures to benefit survivors of sexual violence.  

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, 

  • 37% of perpetrators of sexual abuse against child survivors were under 18 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