In 2014 six years of cumulative cuts of up to 30% saw the temporary closure of services by one of Ireland’s largest rape crisis centres. Yet six years of cuts and public funding shrinking has been accompanied by a very significant rise in demand on services nationwide – with a 28% increase in clients accessing services between 2009 and 2012. The 2.5% cap on cuts promised by Tusla: the Child and Family Agency for 2014 was recently increased to a 3.5% cut, in many instances with no notice to services.
The impact on rape crisis centres doing more with less has a direct impact on victims of rape using or wanting to use the services – less helpline hours, longer waiting times, shorter opening hours, cessation of outreach and prevention work to some of the most vulnerable in our society. Of greatest concern is that services are less available to victims at their time of need – when they first reach out for specialist support – often in a time of crisis.
Further cuts are predicted in 2015 as any increased public spending is not a priority for post-recession Ireland. In this context what can we in Ireland anticipate in the next few years in terms of responding to rape and sexual violence crimes, looking after victims of appalling, life altering crimes and preventing these crimes from destroying even more lives and families?
Sexual violence, and all forms of gender-based violence, can be addressed and significantly prevented in the first place. Recovery from crimes of sexual violence, whether experienced in childhood, adulthood or both, is possible and happens. The pathways to recovery vary greatly, it is far from being a neat, step by step path, as every woman, man and child who has experienced sexual violence knows only too well. Specialist support is often critical.
The Irish government is drafting the new National Strategy for Sexual Violence for the coming years. Sexual violence policy impacts across multiple departments including children, health, justice, education, local government. There is every indication that the Sexual Violence Strategy will be designed in terms of what Ireland can ‘afford’ – meaning what can be achieved in decreasing public budgets and further cuts. It is important to put on the public record that this would be nothing less than a spectacular failure in terms of what Ireland must do to provide a meaningful response to victims of sexual violence.
A strategy which does not set-out to achieve secure accessible services and coordinated national prevention is a strategy which fails children, women and men in Ireland. Every single department must have a comprehensive prevention strategy. The current patchwork of frontlines operate on less than half of the real budgets required – this must be addressed.
Responding to survivors’ needs must be a priority for the state because it is right. In addition from 2015 under an EU Directive Ireland will be at risk of enforcement proceedings, including financial penalties, if its obligations to provide support services to victims are not reflected in our law. And yet, response services such as Rape Crisis Centres are struggling to keep their doors open.
The Rape Crisis Network is clear that widespread and on-going crimes of sexual violence in Ireland are not sufficiently prioritised in the current administration. Responding to victims, and developing and delivering prevention programmes, both require increased budgets at this time – and significantly increased budgets.
Both services planning and policy responses must be driven and informed by quality evidence base and analytical capacity – Ireland is very fortune in have access to both, including access to a data collection system that is recognised as a model of best practice at both Irish and EU levels. However, this unique resource, crucial to each department’s discharge of its responsibility, has operated without committed core funding for years and will shortly fall off a cliff if this government does not secure its sustainability.
Based on our experience over the past number of years engaging at policy and practice level, Rape Crisis Network Ireland are not confident that the current roadmap will deliver the necessary and long overdue response and dedicated leadership required. What we need is a government willing to do what is needed to respond appropriately to the issue of sexual violence. As survivors striving to overcome the desolation wrought by rape are only too aware, sometimes, especially when you have nothing left to give, you have to dig deeper, go further, and do more.
Fiona Neary, Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RCNI) Director
The Rape Crisis Network detailed and comprehensive Submission to the National Strategy of Gender Based Violence is available on our website at: www.rcni.ie/publications/submissions-and-policy-papers/