SEXUAL violence is highly prevalent across Ireland. One in five girls and one in six boys experience contact sexual abuse and one in 10 women are raped.
Given its systemic and gendered nature, sexual violence is recognised as a life-limiting discrimination under which all women suffer. In short, sexual violence is one of the most critical issues a just society must address. No government can ignore or neglect this issue as its pervasiveness and the seriousness of its negative impacts makes the social contract precarious.
A government’s moral, democratic, and indeed legal obligations to its citizens on the issue of sexual violence are clear.
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A lot has happened in the past 40 years of the rape crisis movement. The rape crisis sector has driven and developed innovative responses that are needs-led and survivor-centred. The movement, in partnership with communities, leaders, and government has succeeded in contributing to significant policy and legislative changes, creating safe places for survivors, supporting survivors’ voices to be heard. We have developed shared standards of practice and understanding and set about building an evidence-base to inform these changes. We are proud of these achievements, but it is clear to us that this is only one part of the job and only the beginning.
In 2014 this Government, in a decisive step to address many failings on sexual violence, founded a new agency, Tusla: the Child and Family Agency. Tusla’s capacity and remit addresses critical gaps and past failings in the State’s response to the crime of sexual violence and meeting survivors’ needs, in particular the child survivor. We continue to support them in that endeavour. However, by itself, Tusla can never get the job done. Tusla alone does not fulfil this State’s responsibility on sexual violence.
We estimate that only 20% of survivors will reach out to specialist services. That means 80% do not and will not have their needs met by Tusla’s activities, even at full capacity.
In terms of formal justice, the numbers are the same. We estimate that four out of five victims of sexual violence crime will not access justice; they will continue to have an unmet justice need.
If the totality of this State’s response to survivors is to provide services to only 20%, then the State’s response is manifestly insufficient. More importantly, justice demands that we challenge the status quo of sexual violence prevalence. Justice demands that we act decisively and credibly to prevent sexual violence from happening in the first place. This is not happening.
Instead, under the guise of rationalisation, safe spaces for survivors, the independent bodies and advocacy for survivors on the issue of sexual violence, risk being curtailed, confined and silenced.
Tusla has withdrawn 100% of Rape Crisis Network Ireland’s long standing core funding, which includes the funding to support the body of work that produces the evidence in our latest report.
Tusla has proposed a contract to rape crisis centres which threatens their capacity to offer a safe, non-statutory space to survivors. Survivors’ right to access support without pressure to report to the authorities is at issue.
Under Tusla, not only is a survivor’s right to specialist support services at risk, even on the eve of the new EU Victim’s Directive coming into force, survivors may become burdened with the responsibilities which are properly the State’s, and they may well come to bear that burden in isolation. This must not happen.
The job is not done and arguably has only just begun. This Government must move beyond an understanding that its duty has been fulfilled in the handing over of its responsibility to the agency Tusla. As long as there is insufficient capacity and fragmentary approaches to the prevention of sexual violence, this Government will fail to meet its obligations to victims of sexual violence under the EU Victims’ Directive. We call on Government to take up its role on the issue of sexual violence, the continuation of the status quo unchallenged is not an option.