We’re living in a “rape culture”, even though the term seems to annoy some people. So let’s just say we’re living in a culture in which rape is routinely trivialised, where victims are frequently blamed for its occurrence and their testimony is denied and ridiculed, and where the onus is placed on them to prevent rape from happening.
Just under a third of female respondents to a recent survey among Trinity College Dublin students said they had experienced unwanted physical contact while at Trinity. A quarter of female students had been sexually assaulted, or had a “non-consensual sexual experience”. The Dublin Rape Crisis Centre (DRCC) has recorded a shocking increase of 36% in the number of victims of rape and sexual assault to the Sexual Assault Treatment Unit in the Rotunda Hospital in Dublin in 2015.
Ellen O’Malley-Dunlop, CEO of DRCC, said: “The 36% increase in the number of victims accompanied to the Sexual Assault Treatment Unit in Dublin, for 2015 in comparison with 2014, is very concerning. We have yet to analyse these figures as to why there has been such an increase”.
Surprisingly, 24% of callers were male and there has been a steady year-on-year increase in males using the Helpline since 2008 when the gure was 14%.
There was an increase of 30% in first-time callers to the National 24-Hour Helpline in 2014 (the latest year for which statistics are available), compared with 2013 figures. Calls relating to adult rape showed an increase of 14% compared with 2013 figures. There was an increase of 71% in crisis appointments for recent rape and sexual assault delivered by therapists in 2014, compared with 2013 figures.
Our statistics on sexual crime are shocking. It is now thirteen years since publication of the Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland Report (SAVI) detailing the prevalence of sexual violence in relation to age and gender for over 3,000 adults, it remains a very distressing document. So with a general election looming what’s to be done?
Ratification of the Istanbul Convention would generate change. The convention deals with prevention, requiring us to put in place measures to challenge the gender stereotypes, roles and attitudes that promote this culture of violence against women. It obliges us to ensure that the Garda respond immediately to calls for assistance and that all victims have access to special protection measures during investigation and judicial proceedings.
The convention crucially deals with protection, ensuring that the needs and safety of survivors are placed at the heart of all measures. It demands the setting up of specialised support services that provide medical assistance as well as psychological and legal counselling to survivors and their children. The convention also stipulates the number of refuges that are needed to adequately respond to women, that of one refuge place per 10,000 of population – we’re well behind this target right now. The Istanbul Convention provides the framework for structural and personal reforms and provides a mechanism to hold the Government to account.
We need stronger legislation. Domestic violence should be a crime of itself, accompanied by appropriate sanctions that match the seriousness of the act. Within the proposed sexual-offences legislation, a definition of consent should be included. Consent should be freely given – an enthusiastic, clearly communicated and ongoing Yes.
Right now one in ten victims of sexual crime in Ireland reports that crime. Of that one in ten, only 7% lead to a conviction. We urgently need sanctions that are effective, consistent, proportionate and dissuasive. The appallingly high attrition rates within our criminal justice system and send out a message to women that if they report a crime justice will be done. We must provide a supportive environment for women to continue through the system and seek justice.
Setting up the new Garda unit – The Human Protective Services Bureau – was a great move but it requires increased personnel and financial resources to target domestic and sexual violence. Specialist units in each Garda Division should now be established to address domestic and sexual violence ,and ongoing training is required at all levels to develop an expertise within the force that both supports the victim and pursues perpetrators to arrest and conviction.
We will only seriously address this issue when we shift the focus from women, from asking what did she do, why was she there at that time, why did she stay, and place the focus on men who perpetrate these crimes. We must break the malicious disbelief, victim-blaming and perpetrator-excusal that surrounds rape.
We must restore funding to the organisations that help victims. We must shatter this culture of rape.