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Introduction by Ellen O’Malley-Dunlop CEO Dublin Rape Crisis Centre to Public talk by Rafif Jouejati Director of Free Syria

Angela McCarthy (Drcc), Marese (Scc), Rafif Jouejati (Free Syria), Ellen O'Malley Dunlop (Drcc), Ronan Tynan (Scc)
Angela McCarthy (Drcc), Marese (Scc), Rafif Jouejati (Free Syria), Ellen O’Malley Dunlop (Drcc), Ronan Tynan (Scc)

I would like to thank the organizers for inviting me to Chair this evening’s meeting. Before I hand over to Rafif Jouejati who is going to talk to us about Rape as a Weapon of War in the conflict in Syria, I will give you a short background to Sexual Violence in Ireland and will make reference to how we at the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, (DRCC) played a small part in bearing witness to rape as a weapon of war in other conflict torn countries in the past .

35 years ago in 1978, 5,000 women marched in Dublin in the “Reclaim the Night” campaign that was sweeping through all the major cities in Europe at the time. The catalyst for the march in Dublin was the ferocious gang rape of a 16 year old girl in Sean McDermott Street. Rape and sexual abuse were topics not talked about in Irish Society at that time however these heinous crimes were being committed and committed mainly with impunity and in secret against women, men, children and vulnerable adults.

The SAVI Report, which collected and analysed information on Attitudes and Beliefs to Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland, when published in 2002, validated the stories we were hearing in the therapy rooms; that 4 in 10 girls and 1 in 4 boys were victims of sexual crimes in Ireland; that women were as vulnerable as young girls through their life cycle and that boys were less vulnerable as they became men. 1in 10 report the crime and of the 1 in 10 there is approximately a 7% conviction rate. The 1 800 77 8888 national 24 hour helpline was set up in 1979 following the march and took 78 call in the first year. In 2012 there were over 10,000 calls to this helpline.

Attitudes to sexual crimes in Ireland can still be caught up in the old myths of ‘she was asking for it’, ‘look at how she was dressed’, ‘Children forget’ etc. etc.  Attitudes have a long shelf life and the cultural myths we live by whereby women and children are perceived as secondary to men, still prevail.

There was outrage expressed, and rightly so, after the publications of the Ryan, Murphy and Cloyne reports, documenting the abuse of children in state run  institutions and by the clergy, and yet when there was a referendum to enshrine the rights of the child in our constitution, we had one of the lowest turn-out of voters in a referendum. However we now have a Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Frances Fitzgerald and a new Child and Family Support Agency dedicated to protection, prevention, welfare and the well being of our children. But we still have a long way to go.

This is a very brief snap shot of where we are today in Ireland having had 35 years of awareness raising and a slow but sure recognition and acceptance of the horrendous aftermath and cost to society as a whole, of rape and sexual abuse.

The DRCC has learned and grown in its experience of responding to and working with victims of sexual violence over this time. Following reports of mass rape in the former Yugoslavia in the 1980s, the DRCC provided badly needed training programmes for community based workers there, from 1993 to 1998 and similar programmes in Kosovo from 1999 to 2002 with the support of Irish Aid and the Department of Foreign Affairs. These programmes were devised in collaboration with the community workers on the ground and the expertise we had learned from our experience of working with the traumatic after affects of rape and sexual abuse on the individual, their families and their communities.

This evening we will hear from Rafif Jouejati of the horrors of what is happening in Syria to women, men and children who are the victims of rape and sexual abuse crimes, which are being used as weapons of war in our world of 2013.

One has to ask the question have we learned anything from our past experiences of these heinous crimes?  I believe we have learned a lot but what is really difficult to understand is why rape continues to be allowed to be used as a weapon of war in 2013?

Rafif Jouejati is the English spokeswoman for the Local Coordinating Committees in Syria, a network of activists. She is also director of FREE-Syria, a nonprofit humanitarian organization that focuses on women’s empowerment, and a member of the executive committee of The Day After Project, which is developing a transition plan for the country.

For further information please contact Ellen O’Malley Dunlop at 01 6614911.


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