The Rape Crisis Network Ireland, RCNI, represents 11 of the 16 rape crisis centres. Funding for the network was withdrawn in 2015 because Tusla wanted to take direct control of the data collected by the centres. This potentially includes significant personal data associated with rape survivors. Tusla has essentially made funding dependent on the rape crisis centres sharing the data of rape survivors who present to them. The agency has since entered into individual service level agreements with each centre in which it tied funding into the provision of data. Furthermore, the centres must compel consent from rape victims, which is ironic in the most horrific way.
There are serious concerns that the information used to generate statistics could inadvertently reveal the identities of rape survivors. These concerns are genuinely held by the rape crisis centres and many survivors who are fearful of identifying themselves to the rape crisis centres, not to mention Tusla. It is important to note that the same contracts that are being forced on rape crisis centres are also being forced on domestic abuse centres and similar organisations, although these are probably fewer in number. It is understandable that the centres are worried about highlighting this new requirement for data sharing as they fear it may scare victims away from using their services. However, this fear must be weighted against their desire to make people fully aware of how their data may be used. Given that this information is highly sensitive and personal, concerns about how it is used are legitimate.
A European Union directive on victims specifically states that victims of sex crime must be afforded an independent non-state option for assistance and contact. Tusla is trying to circumvent this requirement through its contracts. Writing recently in The Irish Times, the executive director of the Rape Crisis Network Ireland pointed out that while the State had a duty of care to survivors, "critically, the State itself at times presents risks to survivors - a principle acknowledged in EU laws on victims' rights". This appears to have been totally ignored with the introduction of these new contracts by Tusla.
The RCNI seeks the restoration of its funding, as I do, in order that it can continue to use the database it developed for this specific purpose more than a decade ago. The database has been recognised by the European Institute for Gender Equality as a model of best practice in data collection and protection. Given recent grave revelations regarding how data were treated in Tusla, it is understandable that people will be reluctant to provide such sensitive data to Tusla and trust in the organisation will need to be rebuilt.
Serious question marks arise regarding the reason Tusla is seeking this data and the Rape Crisis Network Ireland has not been satisfied with the reasons given thus far. The entire process has been fraught and certain aspects of it have been difficult to believe. I had to double check when I learned that Tusla had used the SurveyMonkey tool to collect some of the data from rape crisis centres.
Notes of an internal meeting released in response to a freedom of information request reveal that when asked if it should consult the Data Protection Commissioner regarding its new regime, Tusla's response was "that there was not necessarily advantage in making contact with the Data Commissioner as it would largely depend on the view of whoever responded and that there may not be a black and white view on all aspects of the query". In other words, Tusla decided not to ask because it might not like the answer. This is a worrying development.