Opinion: Funding cut will erode service for victims of sexual violence

Funding cut will erode service for victims of sexual violence

Sexual violence is highly prevalent across Ireland. One in five girls and one in six boys experience contact sexual abuse and one in 10 women are raped within their life time (SAVI 2002). In short, sexual violence is one of the most critical issues a just society must address. No government can ignore or neglect this issue which impacts in such a pervasive and serious way on society.

A government’s moral, democratic and legal obligations to its citizens on the issue of sexual violence are clear.

Four out of five survivors of sexual violence don’t report and/or don’t seek one-to-one counselling. Four out of five remain outside the systems designed to respond to their needs. The challenge for government is that these survivors still have rights, needs and yet no justice is delivered to them, and no perpetrators are being held to account.

One part of the response to that massive vote of no confidence is to ensure our systems are fit for purpose. For a survivor that means that they are safe and the potential cost of stepping across the threshold of the Garda station is less than the value of doing so. So we work on building listening, effective services that respond to survivors and respect their right to consent, so they can decide how and when to proceed. We also work to ensure that we can meet survivors’ needs when they step across the threshold.

For 40 years we have been doing that work in the rape crisis movement. We have built and continue to build our own services, we have been partnered with our communities to ensure other agencies and professionals can also meet survivors’ needs. We have worked with the State to ensure the set of laws, resources and practices are in place so that the system can work for survivors.

If the totality of this State’s response to survivors is to provide services to only 20 per cent of survivors, then the State’s response is manifestly insufficient. There are scarce resources to meet the needs of the other 80 per cent, but the RCNI and Rape Crisis Centres are part of the solution and therefore it should be a priority to not only protect but enhance them.

Yet Rape Crisis Network Ireland (the independent specialist body Rape Crisis Centres built and continue to own and govern) has had its core funding from Tusla, the Family and Child Agency, withdrawn. Tusla has also proposed new contracts for Rape Crisis Centres which risk the autonomy of rape crisis centres, so vital to survivors, and the range of community activity every rape crisis centre engages in to help the four in five who remain outside of one-to-one counselling.

Tusla’s job is to deliver child protection, early intervention and national planning. RCNI’s job is to deliver the voice of all survivors to the national platforms that can drive, resource and make the changes we know are possible.

Tusla will carry out the very important work of delivering services and improving early intervention, it has little capacity for more. We believe that Tusla cannot deliver on the issue of sexual violence.

If increasingly the independent supports and advocates for survivors rights are eroded and silenced, then survivors will truly stand alone. What is more the burden of sexual violence will come to rest on the shoulders of survivors. It is not their burden. It is the perpetrators’ burden in the first instance and the State’s thereafter. The State must shoulder its burden.

Clíona Saidléar is Acting Director fo the Rape Crisis Network Ireland

This column was published on the IrishTimes.com on Thursday, June, 11th, 2015. You can read the original here.