Responding to the Trauma of Sexual Violence in a Post-Pandemic World

Responding to the Trauma of Sexual Violence in a Post-Pandemic World


RCNI launches innovative training and research programme to address Counselling Survivors of Sexual Violence On and Off-Line


Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RCNI) has joined forces with Dr Jessica Taylor, UK based forensic psychologist, survivor and author of best-selling book Why Women Are Blamed For Everything to co-create a pioneering new world-standard training and evidence gathering programme on counselling survivors of sexual violence in a post-pandemic world.


The Programme, called Counselling Survivors On and Off-Line, has emerged from the experience of the Covid-19 lockdown when Rape Crisis Centres had to be vacated and when trauma counselling services had to move on-line.


The RCNI’s partner for this programme is a world-leading and critical voice on victim blaming, feminism and sexual violence. She is the founder and owner of VictimFocus, the VictimFocus Blog and The VictimFocus Academy which has 1.2 million readers per year. Her PhD explored the psychology of victim blaming and self-blame of women who have been subjected to sexual violence and abuse, which she subsequently published as her book.


According to Cliona Saidlear, Director of RCNI, the change in the provision of RCC counselling services brought about by the Covid-19 lockdown impacted profoundly on the quality and nature of the deep intervention required for survivors, in ways that could not have been predicted and that are still not fully understood.


“While there is some optimism that a vaccine for Covid-19 may mean a return to some normality in 2021, the impact of Covid and dealing with the trauma of sexual violence within a global shared trauma of a pandemic is not going to disappear,” she said.


“Remote trauma counselling is here to stay as part of a new hybrid model of on- and off- clinical counselling,” Saidlear continued. “But it’s vital that we know that what we are doing in this new era of on- and off-line counselling is working, is of the highest possible standard, and is completely survivor centred.”


RCNI data from the initial lockdown period in 2020 showed significant increases and changes in survivor engagement. There was a 23% increase in contacts made to Rape Crisis Centre Helplines. Almost all of those already in counselling in the centres could switch to remote counselling but some could not.


The new RCNI programme combines both critical research and training. The programme will gather evidence and understanding about the impact of dealing with the trauma of sexual violence in a pandemic world and how practitioners have responded. Secondly, RCNI and Dr Jessica Taylor will deliver a CPD recognised training programme, taking into account the evidence, to fast track learning and upskilling to counsellors, so that survivors can be confident that the services they are accessing, whether in person, or remotely, are of the highest quality.


Dr Taylor said that it was vital that the general public and bystanders also understand that counselling for survivors has to be highly specialised, trauma informed and evidence-based.


“The old days of a comforting word and a “lavender bath” have long passed for survivors of sexual abuse,” she said. “It is absolutely critical that survivors, the general public and by-standers understand that counselling and supports for survivors of sexual violence, both on-line and face-to-face have to be highly specialised and highly trained. The pioneering training and research work we are doing here in Ireland can inform the response to survivors throughout the world.”


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 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.


For more information:

Contact Edel Hackett, Tel: 087-2935207


Future-Proofed Training


The new training programme Counselling Survivors On and Off-Line will:


  1. Create a specialist and standardised suite of training for those working with survivors of sexual violence;
  2. Ensure that these trainings are accredited and recognised as CPD best practice by key stakeholders, including Government;
  3. Create a register to ensure that all those working with survivors in this post-Covid era have completed the training as the gold standard;
  4. Create an on-line community of practitioners connected to survivors through safe online platforms.
  5. Complement and strengthen other projects and programmes like the O’Malley report training.