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Rape Crisis Network Ireland cuts demeaning to survivors

An Cailín Rua

Rape Crisis Network Ireland cuts demeaning to survivors

Anne-Marie Flynn

TWO weeks ago, Rape Crisis Network Ireland released its 2014 National Statistics Report, containing information collected from users of 14 Irish Rape Crisis Centres (RCCs). As well as statistics, contained within are the real words of survivors of sexual violence.
“I have visited the RCNI website numerous times to look at statistics and to inform myself, mainly to remind myself that I am not alone,” says one. This, however, is likely to be the last report of its type produced in Ireland.
Sexual violence in Ireland is systemic and horrifying. The most recent Irish study, the 15-year-old Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland Report (SAVI) showed that a staggering four in ten women and three in ten men experienced some form of sexual abuse over the course of their lifetime. Yet silence reigns on this topic. We don’t speak about it, but the next time you’re in the company of nine other people, think about it.
So, what’s the State doing to address this? Why, terminating core funding to the body that collects and collates the evidence, of course.

Shut down of critical service
Rape Crisis Centres around Ireland provide free support for survivors of sexual abuse. Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RCNI) is their national representative body. Over the past decade, as well as providing training and facilitating knowledge sharing, RCNI has designed and implemented an internationally recognised system to collect data from survivors attending RCCs. This information is used to produce reports, which contribute to legal, social and policy changes, and ensure that RCC services continue adapting to meet survivors’ needs.
These reports, the experiences of real survivors, have unearthed critical insights about sexual violence in Ireland. We now know that approximately a third of perpetrators of sexual violence against children are themselves under 18. We have heard how sexual violence affects elderly people and asylum seekers. We have evidence that young people experience severe difficulty giving and recognising consent for sexual activity, particularly when alcohol is involved. Now that we have proof, we should be trying to change these things.
State agency Tusla, however, has recently terminated 100 per cent of RCNI’s core funding, essentially, closing it down. Its national, collective voice goes with it and so, shamefully, will the data from thousands of Irish survivors recorded in its database. Tusla says it will take over responsibility, but data protection laws rightly mean existing data cannot simply be transferred, and in any case, Tusla has no alternative in place. (Even if it did, what would its purpose be? Prioritising collection and analysis of survivors’ evidence to effect policy change, or to justify their own spending?) Regardless, this valuable resource is simply being discarded; with it ten years of painstakingly collected data. How regressive, how demeaning to survivors.

Time to speak up
Tusla justifies the cut, saying it means maximum resources will go directly to frontline support services. However, we have no proof that the RCNI core funding (a relatively paltry €250,000) will be diverted to RCCs. It’s been suggested, however, that Tusla is apparently busy creating new administrative posts in the area of sexual violence. Old habits die hard. Tusla also insists that current funding will remain in place for RCCs. After several consecutive years of cuts to these services while demand grew, this is hardly praiseworthy. The funding however is subject to conditions, including a requirement to maintain training levels. Who is the key provider of that training? RCNI.
Our Minister for Justice meanwhile last week defended the cut, while simultaneously labelling the level of sexual violence in Ireland as ‘disturbing’. Where’s the joined-up thinking? Prevention is better (and more economical) than cure. Preventative strategies, such as national campaigns to educate the public about sexually harmful attitudes and behaviours - and crucially, consent - are long overdue. The RSA receives millions in state funding every year to prevent road deaths. It’s working – deaths have decreased significantly over the past decade, subsequently delivering savings to the exchequer worth multiples of their funding.
Why can we not adopt a similar approach when it comes to preventing sexual violence? Because staying silent is easier?
RCNI Acting Director Dr Cliona Saidléar said last week: “Tusla have de-funded the collection of evidence in an area where there is not a lot of evidence and an awful lot of silence.”
For too long we have been silent. It’s time start to speaking up.