In 2002, a report was published in Ireland called Sexual Abuse and Violence (SAVI). It was a groundbreaking report funded by Atlantic Philanthropies which documented the vast scale of sexual violence experienced by over 3,000 adults in relation to age and gender in Ireland. It was the first report of its kind and was commissioned by the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre and was described as ‘groundbreaking’ at the time. It was particularly important as it focused both on the responses of those abused, but also on the attitudes and perceptions of the general public to sexual violence, something which has been rarely documented before.

That however, was 15 years ago when we knew less about sexual violence, domestic violence and how many people it really affects across the country. 15 years on and with the data now obsolete the Irish government is refusing to invest the €1 million required to carry out a second SAVI report. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said he would rather invest in frontline services than research.To me that is putting the cart before the horse. How can you adequately fund services if you don’t know which services people need? The government wouldn’t use 15 year old housing data to design their new housing policy so why do the same for these services? As Mary-Lou McDonald of Sinn Féin pointed out, if our Taoiseach was willing to put €5 million into his Strategic Communications Unit, he should be willing to put 20% of that into a second SAVI report.

Knowledge as they say is power and knowledge and understanding is what the first SAVI report provided. The first SAVI report in 2002 showed that 1 in 5 women experienced contact sexual abuse in childhood while 1 in 6 men experienced the same. It also showed that 1 in 5 women experienced contact sexual assault in adulthood with 1 in 10 men experiencing the same. Approximately a third of all men and women will experience some form of sexual violence in their lifetime.

These were damning statistics in 2002 and they’re still damning today. Before the SAVI report, any data on sexual violence was gathered by the number of victims who reported to the Gardaí. As we known even today, those numbers are low with just 1 in 10 victims reporting to the Gardaí. The prosecution rate of these reported sexual assaults is incredibly low with just 1% of reported assaults ending in conviction. Even if convicted many sentences are lenient as Tom Humphries recent concurrent sentences of 2 and a half years for defilement of a child and four counts of inviting a child to participate in a sexually explicit, obscene or indecent act show.

These statistics from the SAVI report allowed services like the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre and the HSE to adjust their services to better serve the needs of victims. It allowed them to focus their efforts and money on programmes that helped more victims. It was a way to fight back against sexual abuse and violence which for so long had remained a taboo topic in Ireland. As Roseanna Shanahan of Consent at UCD said ‘To not fund this report shows that the government is simply ignoring this issue  and are burying their heads in the sand in a way that is completely disrespectful to anyone who has experienced assault or rape. It’s time for Ireland to own up to its rape culture. In order for Ireland to overcome this issue in the future, we need to realize how bad it is in the first place, meaning we need definite up to date statistics.’

Government Resistance
So why are the government refusing to fund a second SAVI report? Well simply put, they don’t believe we need one. Simon Coveney when asked why money wasn’t set aside in this year’s budget for a second SAVI report said ‘The issue is whether or not we should now prioritise spend on further research to build on that which is already there but outdated. I will take my advice from the experts in this area through the Department. If trying to find €1 million for this research is the right thing to do, the government will do it’.

The government has also stated that a European study on domestic violence carried out in 2014 gave the government enough statistics for them to work with. This report found that 1 in 4 women will experience domestic violence and yet funding for services like the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre has still yet to increase to pre recession levels. In fact between 2007 and 2014 it was cut by 34% which suggests that the ‘balance’ the Department of Justice wants to strike between research and funding front like services is not being struck at all. That being said Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has asked ministers if Irish statistics on sexual violence are adequate or if new research needs to be carried out. Given it would cost €250,000 from each of the Departments of Justice, Health, Education and Children and Youth Affairs to carry out a new SAVI report, the government should make good on that promise if they are in any way decent or caring. As Roseanna explains ‘For the government to turn around and not fund the DRCC to carry out another SAVI report is a massive slap in the face to the Irish people. Ireland has a horrendous rape culture and the incidences of sexual harassment, sexual assault and rape are alarming. But without proper up to date statistics how can we possibly realize the severity of this issue or address it?’

People have been calling for a second SAVI report for a number of years now. In 2009 Sinn Féin’s then Health Spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin called on the Government to undertake to complete a new SAVI report. In 2014, former Chief Executive of the DRCC Ellen O’Malley Dunlop called for a second SAVI on the back of their report which showed their helpline had fielded the highest number of calls since 2009. That report also highlighted the increased use of social media in abuse which of course the first SAVI report would not have covered. Increased use of social media particularly for children and teenagers has led to an increased vulnerability for abuse such as revenge porn or images and videos of assaults being shared around via social media. A second SAVI report would aid the understanding of how social media is being weaponised by abusers and how many victims are being affected by it as a second form of abuse.

Student Campaign
So why is a second SAVI report a student issue? Well according to a report in 2013 from the Rape Crisis Network Ireland, 26% of perpetrators of sexual assault were aged 20-26 with 21% aged under 20. 26% of survivors were aged between 20-29 with 12% aged under 20. Sexual assault, sexual violence and domestic abuse are not just a student issue, they’re a national issue so it is only right that students should be campaigning for a second SAVI report as much as anybody else.

According to our current Campaigns & Communications Officer/Acting President Barry Murphy, UCDSU are planning to set the pace for UCD students by putting forward a motion during their next council meeting on November 13th to campaign for a second SAVI report. Speaking to the Tribune he said ‘We feel like it is of huge importance to Irish society that this [second report] is released.’ When asked why he explained ‘We feel like a 2nd SAVI report is vital to understanding the changes in Irish culture regarding sexual violence over the last few years. While we hope the findings of a 2nd report will be an improvement on those of the first, we feel like it will better emphasise the increased funding needed to help support the victims of sexual violence. The increased funding will also help to prevent anything like this happening to Irish citizens in future.’ It’s both reassuring and strange when your SU is more forward thinking than your actual government isn’t it?

As well as that UCDSU will be supporting Consent at UCD’s campaign ‘16 Days of Activism’. The campaign which will take place from November 25th to December 10th will focus on sexual coercion. ‘This year we are going with the theme of sexual coercion. To do this we have created posters that challenge what Irish students would consider being normal, posters that reflect on what we have heard being used in our time in UCD, for example, people passing remarks like ‘I didn’t know you were such a prude’  or ‘You came back to mine after a night out, what did you expect was going to happen?’ explains Roseanna. ‘Rape culture has become so entrenched in Irish society that we have come to normalize how we speak about sexual coercion, however, sexual coercion is, in fact, sexual harassment which can lead to people feeling pressured into having sex due to manipulation. A yes to sex isn’t a yes if you have to coerce and manipulate someone to change their no into a yes!’

As for the second SAVI report, Murphy is eager for students to get involved in campaigning. ‘UCDSU can lobby politicians to ask them to seek funding to allow the second SAVI report. Similarly to our Housing Campaign this will extend from the norm of sending letters and contacting politicians directly. We will aim towards getting students to contact their own TDs, getting them in engaged in our efforts. UCD students can be part of this.They can volunteer with SU or with Consent at UCD’.

Whether or not you believe there is a strong rape culture in Ireland, it’s hard to argue that a second SAVI report isn’t needed. Investing in frontline services based off 15 year old data is both foolish and unnecessary. €1 million is a small price to pay for better statistics leading to better prospects and services for some of the most vulnerable in society. That being said when the Taoiseach’s answer to a question about sexual harassment in the Dáil is a pop at Sinn Féin, I don’t hold out much hope.

Rachel O’Neill – Editor