Saturday 22 October 2016

Those helping rape victims need proper funding, not cutbacks

Ellen O'Malley-Dunlop

Published 14/08/2015 | 02:30

'Denials, myths and cover-ups play a very big part in why these most serious crimes are not eliminated from our society and continue to be committed with impunity'
'Denials, myths and cover-ups play a very big part in why these most serious crimes are not eliminated from our society and continue to be committed with impunity'

It's 3am. Martina, the trained volunteer from the Rape Crisis Centre who is on duty tonight, is woken up by the telephone ringing. It's the nurse from the Sexual Assault Treatment Unit (SATU) in the Rotunda Hospital on the line.

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A 24-year-old woman will be coming into the unit in 30 minutes. She has been sexually assaulted by her husband. Martina dresses quickly and drives the 15 minutes to the hospital.

She is there five minutes when a garda dressed in plain clothes brings Emer in. Martina greets Emer, who is terribly distressed, and she explains to her the examination procedure. She reassures her that everything will be done at her own pace. She comforts her.

Like all victims of sexual crime, Emer is traumatised and needs the professional support of another who will help to guide her through the beginning stages of her process of healing. Emer will also need to know about the criminal justice system and what lies ahead if she wants to follow through with reporting to the gardaí, but that's for later. (All names have been changed).

In the first six months of 2015, the trained volunteers from the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre accompanied 133 victims of sexual violence to the Sexual Assault Treatment Unit (SATU) in the Rotunda Hospital, 16 more victims than the first six months of 2014. There are five other SATUs in the country. We know from research that only one in 10 report this crime in Ireland. There are many reasons for this very low reporting rate.

Denials, myths and cover-ups play a very big part in why these most serious crimes are not eliminated from our society and continue to be committed with impunity.

Irish society has denied the prevalence of this crime for far too long. Understandable denial is when a victim of adult intimate partner sexual violence does not report it, because of their own denial and total disbelief that someone to whom they have committed their love could do something so heinous to them. And then there are myths like 'the victim was asking for it', which was obvious in how she was dressed (it's usually 'she' when it comes to dress); or that he or she was drunk; that only bad people have bad things happen to them therefore these victims are bad and not worthy of being believed; they did not resist so they must have wanted it; people cry rape to get revenge; they make it up; women lead men on; and women should be more responsible because men don't have the same self-control as women...

And there are cover-ups, which seem to be most evident when it comes to child sexual abuse, as we saw in the many cases that have been reported, ie, the systemic cover-up of clerical child sexual abuse; the cover-up by the IRA in the case of Mairia Cahill; the cover- up of child sexual abuse by Jimmy Savile over decades; and now we see coming to the fore in the public domain, the alleged cover-up of the child sexual abuse by a former prime minister of the UK.

There are 16 Rape Crisis Centres in Ireland and we need every single one of them. They are located in towns and cities throughout the country and have outreach frontline services in other parts of the countryside.

The Rape Crisis movement in Ireland began after a demonstration was held in Dublin in 1979 called the Reclaim the Night March. Marches were being held in all the major cities across Europe at the time and they were organised by women who wanted to raise awareness and reclaim their right to walk the city streets at night without fear of being attacked. The march in Dublin was triggered by a violent gang rape of a 16-year-old girl in Sean McDermott Street in Dublin that year.

Due to the prevalence of sexual violence and the need for Rape Crisis Centres, the 1 800 77 88 88, 24-hour national helpline was set up by a group of volunteers and continues as a 24-hour service to this day. It received 78 calls in 1979 and in 2014 it dealt with over 12,000 calls.

From these early beginnings, the Rape Crisis Centre movement grew in Ireland. The Dublin Rape Crisis Centre was the first of its kind but it was quickly followed by centres in Cork, Galway, Limerick and 12 other centres throughout the country, in Donegal, Sligo, Mayo, Kerry, Waterford, Wexford, Kilkenny, Carlow, Tipperary, Dundalk, Athlone and Tullamore. All centres offer professional counselling and psychotherapy to victims of these most heinous crimes of rape, sexual assault and childhood sexual abuse, to support and facilitate their healing. Most centres also have education programmes.

A National Task Force on Violence against Women in 1997 recommended that the Government commit to addressing this problem seriously.

In 2002, the SAVI Report, ('Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland', McGee et al) was published. Denial of these crimes was again evident in the length of time it took to begin the slow acknowledgment of the findings of this most comprehensive research on the prevalence of, and attitudes and beliefs about, sexual violence in Ireland.

Government, which co-funded the research with Atlantic Philanthropy, slowly took on board its findings and committed to part fund the RCCs that had developed the appropriate skillsets to deliver the professional services needed for victims of sexual trauma to recover.

RCCs still need to fundraise to cover their costs. SAVI told us that over the lifetime of Irish women, 10pc will be victims of rape, while 3pc of men will be victims of rape, the second-most serious crime on our statute books, after murder.

If Ireland's female population is two million, 200,000 will be victims of rape over their lifetime. If the male population is two million, 60,000 men will be victims of rape over their lifetime. Surely, this is a very serious national problem.

A relatively small investment for Government for a huge return for victims of sexual violence, like all agencies funded by Government, RCCs have suffered greatly from cuts to their Government grants since the economic crisis.

The amount of money needed to fund 16 RCCs across the country is approximately €4m. The professional services and value for money that RCCs provide for the most vulnerable victims of sexual crimes could not be matched by any statutory agency and that's why Government should continue to partner with RCCs.

Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, now has overall responsibility for funding RCCs nationally. While we commend this Government for appointing a Minister for Children and Youth Affairs who sits at the Cabinet table, unless Tusla, the agency charged with delivering the national policy to improve well-being and outcomes for children, is appropriately funded, it will not be able to deliver on its remit. And, as a consequence, RCCs will not be appropriately funded to be able to support the healing and prevention of sexual violence in our communities across the country.

This next Budget must allocate the necessary funds for Tusla to deliver its remit and once and for all let the Government demonstrate, through its actions, that it is putting children and vulnerable victims to the fore of its strategy.

Ellen O'Malley-Dunlop is CEO of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre

Irish Independent

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