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Lynn Ruane on sexual assault: 'I carried a shame that wasn’t mine for years before I told anyone'

It’s been 16 years since the Savi – Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland – report, and it’s high time Ireland has another one, writes Lynn Ruane.

Lynn Ruane Independent Senator

IT HAS BEEN 16 years since the first Savi – Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland – report was published in 2002. In light of just how much our understanding of sexual violence has changed since then, it’s high time we updated the State data and looked at the issue and the realities on the ground once more.

Breda Allen, in the opening words of the 2002 Savi report, stated that “this is a groundbreaking breaking study, the importance of which cannot be overestimated”.

These words have only grown truer in the past decade and a half, especially in light of recent developments in the #MeToo movement and the breaking of a powerful and shaming silence, allowing women to come forward and speak about the abuse of power and sexual harassment they have experienced.

The Rape Crisis Centre has reported an increase of 10% in the reporting of sex crimes in the past year.

This has led to a waiting list of up to six months in some cases. This is only part of the picture as we all know huge numbers of sex crimes go unreported.

There is now a pressing need for another Savi report to give us an accurate picture on the ground of the experiences of sexual violence of people in this country.

‘I am not alone’

People keep sharing their stories, baring their souls, prising themselves open for all to see.

They expose themselves to questions and judgments, and hope that no one pokes away at the emotional scars their sexual assaults have left them with.

I carried a shame that wasn’t mine for five years before I told anyone what happened to me and I waited another three before I went to the Rape Crisis Centre.

I am not alone. We must respond with urgency to level of support that is required in Ireland for survivors of abuse.

Some people may never be able to speak to another person about their experience of sexual assault, much less a garda. But just because someone cannot report does not mean they should be invisible.

A better understanding

We need a survey that goes into communities, that can reach survivors in their own surroundings and translate their experiences, their pain and their bravery in sharing that part of themselves into a better understanding of the realities of sexual violence.

We also need to better understand the barriers to accessing law enforcement, medical and therapeutic services for those abused and their families and how best the State can do better and respond to this need.

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan, in response to me this week, has said that he will bring a report to cabinet in the coming months.

The minister said that the group carrying out the scoping exercise was made up of experts and relevant Department officials and was chaired by Professor Dorothy Watson, associate research professor, ESRI, and adjunct professor of sociology at Trinity College Dublin.

I accept that any work undertaken in this area is worthwhile and needed. However, I feel very strongly about having a public element to the collection of data.

I have received hundreds of emails and messages from girls and women in the last three weeks. Some of the emails were extremely difficult to read. Their experiences must make up part of any government proposals or reports.

There are thousands of untold stories and, for those who want to share them, we must find a way to facilitate that in a caring and supportive way.

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About the author:

Lynn Ruane  / Independent Senator

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