Calls for 'whole of society approach' to tackling sexual violence in Ireland
"Why is it that we still blame the victim?"
There has been a call for a "whole of society approach" to tackling sexual violence in Ireland.
CEO of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre (DRCC), Noeline Blackwell, said today that although Ireland has come an extremely long way in the past four decades, there is still a long way to go to eradicate sexual violence.
Speaking at the DRCC's 40 year anniversary conference in Dublin's RCSI today, Blackwell said there are five main areas that the group are looking at to end sexual violence.
These are identifying the needs of survivors, providing adequate research and information, a commitment to informing and educating young people about consent, awareness raising to build a society where sexual violence is not tolerated, and acquiring the resources to carry out their work.
Positive changes to Irish society (such as the Domestic Violence Act and the decriminalisation of abortion) were noted, however the prevalence of social media and easy access to pornography were mentioned as contributing factors to sexual violence issues.
"The world has changed, but our up to date information is poor," said Blackwell.
"How we connect and communicate has changed. That’s also contributed to a massive change in how we engage sexually. We really need to interrogate how to get better information.
"The problem is evident but the information is not."
Access to pornography, desensitisation to violence, and increased focused on social media were all mentioned as factors contributing to Ireland's sexual violence problem among young people.
However, it was also noted that a focus needs to be placed on adequate sexual education across the schooling system. If consent is going to be a focal point of teaching for young people, sex needs to be too.
“Young people have an ignorance of sex and healthy sexual relationships that predates the internet and has some relevance for all generations of Irish people," said Blackwell.
"Young people need to understand that sexual activity must be consensual (...) Why is it that we still blame the victim? What needs to change to ensure that those harmed aren’t abandoned?"
Teacher training was pointed to as a means of early intervention and prevention of sexual violence, but so was the education of parents.
Head of education and training at the DRCC, Leonie O’Dowd, said that many mothers and fathers still feel uncomfortable speaking to their children about sex, and by extension, consent and sexual violence.
This discomfort and lack of awareness could leading to the exhibition of inappropriate sexual behaviour in the child's later life.
"Parents are still very uncomfortable talking about this," she said. "They need that support.”
"[We’ve mentioned] pop culture and pornography. Children encountering that at an early age and the impact that is having on their sexual identity (...) affecting what is good, what is normal, what is pleasurable.
"They’re going to encounter it, so we have to equip them with the support to encounter it critically. We need to take a whole of society approach if we want to achieve cultural change."
If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, you can contact the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre on their national 24-hour helpline on 1800 778 888.