Reflections on 2021

As we see out 2021, I want to thank everyone who has made the journey with us. It has been another busy, affirming and in places tumultuous year. It is a year marked by contrasts; the uncertainty of Covid alongside the solidifying of partnerships and relationships; the inertia surrounding our lives due to the pandemic against the unprecedented change agenda in reforming how we support the victim’s journey through the criminal justice system; the passivity of being subject to a virus against the big and ambitious plans being formulated for the future; the frailty and the resilience of our sector and all who work and volunteer within it, the victims surviving.

None of our work is possible without the engagement and support of survivors, the member Rape Crisis Centres, other NGOs partners and collaborators, our board and funders – thank you to all of you.

The year started with the consultation into the Government Audit into the infrastructure and response across the whole of government to Domestice, Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (DSGBV). The third national strategy consultation commenced shortly into 2021 and the O’Malley review implementation plan led by the Department of Justice – ‘Supporting a Victims Journey’ – was very active with three subcommittees and a raft of projects focused on implementation.

Along with engaging in these three big pieces of government led transformative work the RCNI worked with a range of partners throughout 2021 to create the conditions for change. RCNI chaired the Children Living with Domestic and Sexual Violence NGO coalition working to map the child victim’s journey and advocate on their behalf. We initiated the What Works project with sexual violence NGOs and statutory partners to identify shared data points to understand and track sexual violence against children. We continued our collaboration with counselling partners in the Sector Bodies group to advocate for adult survivor rights in the processing of mandatory reporting, chaired by our colleague Maeve Lewis in One in Four. We were part of the Children Rights Alliance led joint campaign to ensure the best outcomes for the Online Safety and Media Regulation Bill and continued to work with our partners in the Victims Rights Alliance.

Other critical legislative change this year also included the Criminal Procedures Act, the Sex Offenders Bill and the Equalities Act review. We also engaged in a large-scale research project with survivors and counsellors on their experiences and needs in relation to remote and blended counselling. Trauma informed training across the professions of engaged in delivering justice has also been a significant feature of the past year. Our longstanding commitment to education and prevention remained through work across the schools curriculum, the Higher Education Institutes, HSE sexual health work and the Department of Justice-led national DSGBV campaigns.

We have remained committed in 2021 to supporting our partners across Europe. Ireland is one of the few countries in the EU that has long-standing and standalone specialisation in sexual violence responses and so under the Council of Europe’s Istanbul Convention which most countries are now implementing our insights are in demand. As board member of the European Women’s Network against Sexual Violence, I was contracted as a specialist consultant to a UNWomen project in the Western Balkans and Turkey. This work included a study day and we are grateful for the participation of our statutory and SATU partners in sharing Ireland’s 360 experience of responding to sexual violence as part of this project. The project culminated in a guidance document on the ‘how to’ of sexual violence response and we participated in dissemination, promotion and training to rape crisis start-ups in other countries. We continue to act as expert advisors to the European Network WAVE as it builds its language around sexual violence specialisation and continue to engage in the learning and collaborative network with our partners across the UK and Ireland.

The core of our work remains the everyday work with survivors both within the RCNI team and through the rape crisis centres who own and govern the RCNI. Significantly increased networking has been an ongoing part of our Covid response, with shared learning, mutual support, policy and guidance development, upskilling and data gathering featuring throughout.

The Storm and Stress research from our colleague Michelle Walsh launched in June made a big impact as this research filled a critical gap in our evidence around adolescent’s experiences of sexual harassment and violence. The need for this evidence is clear in how frequently these statistics have been quoted since we published them, including by the Ombudsman for Children, the Rapporteur and a judge in a sentencing in a sexual violence case.

2022 promises to be a busy year again for us with large projects from this year continuing into 2022 and their outputs being launched and finalised. This includes the research from the Clinical Innovation Project, funded by Rethink Ireland, which saw 1000 survivors and 500 counsellors participating in our research. RCNI will continue collaborating in the development of a suite of training materials arising from this learning. Alongside this, we will be making the time for the all-important ‘housekeeping’ work of a renewal of our strategic direction, governance, website and data collection infrastructure as well as imagining ourselves into the opportunities and challenges presented by the blended world of on and offline working and living, and the commitment and energy to creating change that exists all round us at present.

Dr Cliona Saidlear
Executive Director, RCNI