RCNI launching first national survey aimed at sexual violence survivors

One year on from lockdown, this survey forms a critical part of a pioneering research and training programme to ensure that counselling on and off-line is working for survivors now.

Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RCNI) is launching the first national survey aimed at reaching out to survivors of sexual violence and those who are supporting survivors today, to understand more about their experiences of counselling and psychotherapy in a world that has been changed utterly by the pandemic.

The new, succinct on-line survey is a critical part of the RCNI’s new pioneering programme of work called Counselling Survivors in an On & Offline World to ensure that there is standardised and specialist counselling for survivors in a post-pandemic world in Ireland. It will be live from March 15th to April 12th. The survey is accessible here.

The RCNI programme is recognised as a global leader in exploring the potential for a new standardised hybrid model of counselling. It has been co-created with Dr Jessica Taylor, a UK based forensic psychologist, survivor and author of the best-selling book Why Women Are Blamed for Everything and founder of Victim Focus. RCNI says that remote trauma counselling is here to stay as part of a new hybrid model of on and off-line clinical counselling. The new RCNI-led programme will also complement the implementation of the O’Malley Report, Supporting a Victim’s Journey: A plan to help victims and vulnerable witnesses in sexual violence cases.

The survivors’ survey follows a major survey of over 750 counsellors and psychotherapists throughout Ireland, and with the collaboration of all the main organisations providing counselling and training.

It found that 79% of respondents said that it was important to have specialism in sexual violence. However, less than half said that their knowledge of misogyny and gender roles was good, indicating a gap between understanding of root causes of sexual violence and the desire for specialism and standardisation in training.
“The survivors’ survey we are launching this week is central to our understanding of how counselling is working for them, particularly over this past tumultuous year,” said Dr Michelle Walshe, who is the RCNI Clinical Programme Lead on the global leading project.

“We are asking survivors and people who are supporting them to fill out our easy to navigate and succinct survey. It will take less than 10 minutes, yet those 10 minutes will feed into the development of training that can ensure that counselling in this country is completely fit for purpose for the new hybrid world we are entering into,” she continued.

“It also means that survivors will have real choice in how they want to receive counselling in the future. As our survey to date has shown, there are huge advantages to on-line counselling, but there are things we have to address and know more about to be certain that it is working.”

The counsellors who responded to the RCNI survey also said that there were many advantages to working remotely and on-line, for example it was easier for many clients who wouldn’t ordinarily be able to or feel uncomfortable accessing services regularly. However, there were also difficulties, primarily with picking up on body language and behavioural cues, and there were some fears from counsellors around assessing the risk of issues like self-harm and suicide.

The programme emerged from the experience of the initial Covid-19 lockdown a year ago when Rape Crisis Centres had to be evacuated and when trauma counselling services had to move on-line, almost overnight.

The initiative is supported by Rethink Ireland, through the Innovate Together Fund, a collaboration between Rethink Ireland the Department of Rural and Community Development. The Fund supports charities’ innovative responses to the Covid-19 crisis that will provide lasting change.

The survivors’ survey will be followed up with a series of in-depth one-to-one interviews with self-selecting and supported survivors, beginning in late April.