Sexual violence victims ‘silenced’ due to funding cut for national data collection system

Victims of sexual violence are being “silenced” following the State’s decision to cut off funding to a national data collection system, rape crisis agencies have said.

Sexual violence victims ‘silenced’ due to funding cut for national data collection system

The Rape Crisis Network of Ireland said it was not in a position to publish its annual figures for 2016 because it no longer had the resources to ensure the data was of the necessary standard.

The network said this was the direct result of the decision by Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, to remove 70% of RCNI funding in 2015.

RCNI executive director Clíona Saidléar said this risked the “dismantling of database infrastructure” across 15 local rape crisis centres and that they had now run out of money to keep it going.

“They took the decision to remove funding and collect the data themselves in 2015 and, at some point, realised they couldn’t as we had told them,” she said.

She said the RCNI had to wait 18 months for Tusla to set up a team to deal with the issue.

“We kept our database open, hoping through engagement with Tusla that it would increase their understanding. But we have run out of resources and couldn’t bring the 2016 data to a necessary standard.”

Ms Saidlear said they had been producing the national figures since 2005.

“This data is important,” she said. “We know so little about sexual violence. Often what you hear is distorted and comes from the courts, which is a minority.”

She disclosed that 65% of people coming to the RCNI centres do not talk to gardaí or social workers.

“They don’t get heard publicly,” Ms Saidlear said. “We give them a voice and their experiences are turned into evidence.

“This evidence, and ours is a national data set, gives us the evidence base to transform policy and practice and turns them into agents of change. If you lose that you silence that powerful tool and you silence them.”

She also pointed out RCNI data was of a high standard and was promoted as best practice by the official EU agency, the European Institute for Gender Equality, to other member states.

Ms Saidlear said she hoped Tusla would come to the understanding “that there is too much to lose here”.

She said: “We have available here the best resource, the best system. It’s not acceptable that we can not come to an agreement.”

She said they needed a “full-time post and some more” in order to support the network of data collection officers.

“This is to guarantee the accuracy and integrity of the data and to do the analysis,” she said.

Ms Saidlear is concerned that the weakened data collection means the sector will struggle to reach EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) compliance.

Tusla, meanwhile, said it provided funding to 58 frontline organisations which support survivors of domestic and sexual violence — and that this funding rose by €1.5m this year.

“Tusla gathers anonymised, summary, data on an annual basis from funded services to allow insight into, and understanding of, the services delivered and the needs of survivors,” a spokeswoman said.“All data gathered undergoes an extensive process of cleaning and validation. Tusla is satisfied that its data collection methods and processes meet all required standards including compliance around data protection.

“Tusla is fully cognisant of its responsibilities in respect of data protection and is actively preparing for the introduction of the GDPR which will come into force next year.

“In addition to having developed data protection guidance for staff in 2015, Tusla proactively engaged a data protection specialist to undertake an assessment of Tusla’s data management activities and is prioritising areas of action.”

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