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Opinion: It's a false economy to cut back funding to rape crisis centres

We need to gain a true picture of the prevalence most heinous crimes in our society in order to inform national policy.

Ellen O’Malley-Dunlop

IT IS ALWAYS the case that a small amount of money spent on effective programmes will lead to a much larger saving in total cost in the future

The recent research from the ESRI confirms not only the psychological impact of childhood sexual abuse on individuals but, for the first time, we have research which highlights the economic impact of childhood sexual abuse, throughout survivors’ entire lives.

The DRCC has been responding to the needs of the victims of childhood sexual abuse since it opened its doors in 1979 as well as victims of recent rape and sexual assault. In 2002 the SAVI Report (Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland, McGee et al) was published and to date it is the most comprehensive research on attitudes and beliefs in Ireland to sexual violence. Since its publication we have also experienced the horrendous stories from the Ferns, Ryan, Murphy and Cloyne reports.

We welcome the information that the ESRI’s research is highlighting as it confirms once again the stories we are hearing in rape crisis centres, on the helplines and in the therapy rooms though out the country. However, we also need a second SAVI to make the necessary comparisons so that we get a truer picture of the prevalence of these crimes in order to inform national policy on responding and combating this most heinous crime in our society.

It is very important that we have robust research to inform national policies. The ESRI’s publication on the Long-term Impact of Childhood Sexual Abuse (CSA) on Incomes and the Labour Force Status among its findings tells us that, 17% of men who were victims of childhood sexual abuse were permanently sick or had a disability and out of the labour force as a result of their experiences, versus 8% of men who we not victims. Male survivors were twice as likely to be living alone.

In 2005 the UN conducted an in-depth study on the impact of violence against women across 13 countries and estimated the annual cost to the economy of theses 13 countries to be in the region of €50 billion in lost employment, productivity and the cost in human pain and suffering including court costs, hospital costs etc. It would be very interesting to know what the actual cost is to the Irish economy of childhood sexual abuse and sexual violence in general. The ESRI in its research notes that:

It should be noted that these figures could well understate the true incidence of childhood sexual abuse if people are reluctant to report such experiences.

This is not a time to cut back further on services such as those delivered by rape crisis centres across the country. Now we know it does not made any economic sense. Services that are there 24/7 to respond to the needs of the victims of sexual violence in our society, victims of childhood sexual abuse and victims of recent rape and sexual assault. It is always the case that a small amount of money spent on effective programmes will lead to a much larger saving in total cost in the future.

From our experiences those who are able to avail of these services are helped to get on with the rest of their lives but we need the research to further build on the SAVI and ESRI Reports so that we can know for sure that support services like rape crisis centres are having a positive effect. While it is our experience, working with victims and survivors, that the supports they receive do help them enormously, we still need the research to confirm our experiences.

Ellen O’Malley-Dunlop is the CEO of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre. This article first appeared on drcc.ie.

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Ellen O’Malley-Dunlop

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