Tusla removes report on sexual violence pending legal advice

Rape Crisis Network Ireland expresses concern over data presented by child and family agency

RCNI executive director Dr Clíona Saidléar. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

RCNI executive director Dr Clíona Saidléar. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

 

Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, has removed a report on sexual violence services from its website pending legal advice after the representative body for rape crisis centres expressed serious concerns over how it was compiled.

The Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RCNI) notified Tusla on Thursday of its intention to begin “a legal process concerning their activities”, it confirmed.

RCNI executive director Dr Clíona Saidléar expressed concern about how the various data sets in the report, Domestic, Sexual and Gender Based Violence Services were used and compared.

The organisation was taken by surprise at the publication of the report by Tusla on Wednesday, having initially been advised it was to attend a “data workshop” for organisations in the sexual violence sector.

Described as a ‘working report’, the document was the first output from Tusla presenting data from Tusla-funded services for victims of domestic, sexual and gender-based violence.

Dr Saidléar and others raised concerns about the data in the report and later said she had assumed it would not be published.

Tusla subsequently published the report, along with a press release, on Thursday, and made the report available on its website.

Dr Saidléar said RCNI had on Thursday taken the decision to notify Tusla of its intention to begin a legal process concerning its activities.

“We did so to protect survivors of sexual violence and their right to privacy and to access rape crisis centres freely and safely,” she said.

“Rape crisis is fundamentally based on our capacity to provide a safe place. If we cannot make that commitment due to the conditions, practices and the relationship being imposed on us by the State then we are no longer available to many survivors who now face a denial of service.”

In a statement, Tusla said it had met with RCNI representatives on a number of occasions to discuss their concerns.

“Additionally Rape Crisis Network Ireland attended a meeting on Wednesday alongside a number of specialist service providers at which improving data reporting processes was discussed so that responses to victims and survivors can be enhanced in the future,” it said.

Asked why the report had been removed from its website, the agency said: “Tusla is currently seeking legal opinion on the issues raised in relation to data and has removed the report from the website pending legal opinion.

“However we are satisfied that our data collection methods and processes meet all required standards including compliance around data protection.”

The Data Protection Commissioner’s office confirmed that RCNI sought its advice on data protection issues in May of last year.

Tusla withdrew its annual €250,000 funding for RCNI about 18 months ago and has entered into a number of service-level agreements with individual centres.

Dr Saidléar said last year that such a drastic reduction to her organisation’s core funding from Tusla constituted a “massive failing” for the State’s sexual violence prevention policies.

More than 18,000 calls, texts and emails were received by 14 rape crisis centres in 2014, according to the RCNI’s National Rape Crisis Statistics report. Some 1,900 people availed of support and counselling.

The organisation gets expert academic advice on quantitative data gathering and analysis in order to ensure external scrutiny and verification of its statistics.