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'Our culture blames victims as young as 12': New report on sexual violence in Ireland launched

At the launch of its annual report, the RCNI spoke about consent, abortion and how we judge teenage victims.

Dublin Rape Crisis Centre
Dublin Rape Crisis Centre
Image: RollingNews.ie

RAPE CRISIS NETWORK Ireland (RCNI) launched its annual report for 2015 today.

Across 11 Rape Crisis Centres nationwide, over 13,000 calls were placed to access their services in 2015.

In these centres, 1,384 people accessed counselling and support last year.

Some of the landmark figures from the report include:

  • 65% of survivors using Rape Crisis Centre services had not previously reported to any formal authority, ie gardaí, doctors etc.
  • 85% of perpetrators were known to their victims.
  • Only 1% of children were sexually abused by a stranger.
  • 24% of those who became pregnant following rape accessed abortion services.
  • Almost one in five (17%) reported multiple incidences of sexual violence against them.
  • Around 88% of survivors who made contact with the Rape Crisis Centre were female.

Speaking at the launch of the report this morning, executive director of the RCNI Clíona Saidléar detailed how the figures were central to providing comprehensive and detailed information on sexual violence in Ireland, especially cases that don’t get reported to authorities such as the gardaí.

She said: “The figure of 65% who don’t previously report it and come to rape crisis centres – they have no other voice bar this data.”

The fact that the vast majority (85%) know the perpetrator could go some way to explaining why so many of these crimes don’t get reported, said Saidléar.

She added that making that journey from reporting the crime all the way through to a court case easier for victims was essential to make sure that more of these crimes do not go unreported. Cooperation between agencies such as the Rape Crisis Centre, gardaí and Tusla could be improved, however, she said.

Cuts to the network’s funding, however, mean that their once-heralded gold standard of reporting on sexual violence in Ireland is under threat, according to Saidléar.

The RCNI has received no funding from the Child and Family Agency Tusla in two years and, along with a cumulative 70% reduction in their funding, this is said to have hit their ability to support the sector with policy and guidance.

“This is the system that the Irish government is let falling through the cracks,” she said.

Consent

The issue of consent is one that is vitally important in Ireland, according to Saidléar. She says that the government must, as a priority, include provision for consent Criminal Justice (Sexual Offences) Bill 2015, which is currently going through the Dáil.

She said:

Everything around sexual violence hinges on consent. It makes no sense not to have a definition of it in our law when it is so pivotal. I would say it’s so critical that we must define it in law.

According to Saidléar, a culture of victims playing down sexual violence and not acknowledging it is no longer a norm. “That culture of “just get on with it”, “just be quiet” and “don’t name it” has really been challenged,” she said.

In terms of men reporting sexual violence, around 12% of the overall number, Saidléar said that common assumptions about men not reporting such incidents may not be true.

19/12/2016. Rape Crisis Network Ireland Report. Ra Clíona Saidléar at the launch today. Source: RollingNews.ie

She said: “There tends to be a phrase thrown out almost as a truism that men find it harder to report sexual violence. I’m not sure that holds up.

“We know women deny and minimise… Men tend not to do that. They tend to know when they’ve experience sexual violence and can name it [...] We obviously have a lot more to do for both genders in this area.”

Teenagers

In terms of how the figures are changing year-on-year, the RCNI are particularly concerned about teenagers and how sexual violence affects them.

Saidléar explained: “They are not served by our child protection regime. The way that services respond is really designed for under-13s… In some ways teenagers are judged as adults, but they are still children.

Under the law, they have no capacity to consent. Often in society, we are asking “how did they behave?” or “what did they do”. All those victim blaming questions – we tend to start asking those of teenagers at a very young age. So from the age of 12,13 and 14 up, we start to ask girls what they did “to ask for it”.

“So I would say the conversation about consent is critical for those children, even though under the law they have no capacity to consent.”

Abortion

It was seen that almost one in four victims who became pregnant following a rape accessed an abortion.

In a recent submission to the Citizens Assembly on the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution, the RCNI expressed the view that including allowing abortion in cases of rape would be “unworkable” if the amendment was to be repealed.

Saidléar said: “The conclusion we came to was that a ‘rape clause’ is not feasible. In terms of the trauma that a survivor has experienced, they would have to be then put through a process where they are judged, assessed and maybe fail.

It must be under health grounds. A survivor shouldn’t have to prove or be judged.

A full copy of their 2015 report can be found here.

Read: Calls for legislation on definition of consent following Supreme Court ruling in rape case

Read: Campaigners say data collection on domestic violence in Ireland at ‘crisis point’

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Sean Murray

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