Sexual Violence Campaign Launch

                                                                                                                                Speech by Minister Flanagan

9th May 2019.


Check against Delivery


Good morning.


Thank you so much for coming … and I’m delighted to be here with you for the launch of this campaign.


I want to welcome in particular all the representatives from the sexual, domestic and victims of crime sectors who have joined us here today.  I know some of you have travelled quite a distance to be with us.


There’s quite the air of anticipation isn’t there?   I think everyone in the room is looking forward to the screening of the ads – the two ads which over the next week will launch my department’s major awareness campaign on sexual harassment and sexual violence.


A lot of work has gone into this.


Over the past few months I have been very much aware of the discussion, the research, the thinking and the talking taking place between my officials, my own team, the creative team in TBWA and the NGOs. I know the conversation has gone back and forth, to and fro, as together, they strove to come up with a concept and a campaign which would deliver a real change to our attitudes to sexual harassment and sexual violence.


Because they certainly need to change.


On March 8th, International Women’s Day no less, the Irish Examiner reported that Ireland has the highest level of claimed sexual harassment in Europe.  The results came from a major international survey which revealed that 32% of Irish women between the ages of 18 and 34 said they had experienced some form of sexual harassment in the last 12 months.  That was the highest in Europe, and the second highest out of all 40 countries surveyed. Only Mexico fared worse.

Sexual offences meanwhile are on the up too. Last year, 3,182 sex crimes were recorded by Gardai, a 26% increase on the previous year.  And that’s despite the fact that it is generally accepted that sex crimes are chronically under-reported.

So we have a problem.  To be honest we probably won’t fully know the extent of the problem until we get data from our new National Survey on the Prevalence of Sexual Violence in a couple of years’ time, but in the meantime we do know that there is an issue.


It’s an issue which, from a department point of view, is handled by Cosc, our National Office for the Prevention of Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based Violence.


And just to bring you up to date with how we got to where we are today.


Well, it all began in 2008 when COSC provided funding for awareness campaigns on domestic and sexual violence.


Those first campaigns ran for 7 years.  In the main, they were provided by the NGOs in the sector, they were mostly billboard and poster ones, and by and large they promoted victim support services.


But in 2015, when COSC did a review of the first national strategy on domestic, sexual and gender based violence, there was a sense that we needed to go further than focussing on the victim … we needed to look at society.

That idea of needing to go broader, was taken up by the then Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald, and she transformed it into a  six year awareness campaign… the first three years focussed on domestic violence… you probably recall  ‘What Would You Do’, which had two central TV ads….


And today, we are launching the Ad which will start off the second three years… and the campaign on Sexual violence.


What we are really trying to get people to understand through this campaign is that there is a huge range of sexual behaviour which might be commonplace, but is absolutely not acceptable, regardless of whether it is criminal.


Some of it indeed is criminal and we will be concentrating even more on those behaviours in a later phase of this campaign.


But for this one, we are saying… sexual violence, sexual assault, sexual harrassment are grey areas to many of us.  The statistics tell us that most victims know their perpetrators … that they are mostly husbands, friends and colleagues.  


So do those perpetrators all know what they are doing is wrong?  Without question, many do.  But all of them?  And what about the rest of us?  Is there a whole range of unacceptable behaviour, which is perhaps going on all around us…. which we need to start noticing, start labelling and start calling out?


Well we think there is … And that’s why we are running this campaign.


It’s about awareness and it’s about the full gamut.


If the top rung of the sexual violence ladder is, say, a brutal offence such as an unprovoked attack and rape, well this campaign, yes will hint at the sheer horror of that top rung, but it will start us off, near the bottom….


From that close to the bottom rung, it will lead us up the ladder, asking us, as it does, to ponder our response to the scenarios presented.   Is that one OK?   What about that one?  Just distasteful or definitely wrong?   Could it be criminal?  Or nearly? Or sort of?


There are many questions there…. Questions which we hope will swirl around in your minds as you watch the ads in a little while, and questions which we also hope will be debated as I said by many people in the country in the next few weeks.


Because what we want this campaign to provoke is all of us to starting to ask:

‘Just what is our attitude to sexual harassment and sexual violence? Are we tolerating it?  Are we excusing it?   And if we are, even if we are doing so only at the lower stages, are we facilitating a culture in which it is really hard for victims of more serious assaults to be heard, to be helped, to be supported.  Those are our questions.


 I want to acknowledge that a huge amount of the work on campaigns such as this one is of course done by the production company involved. For this one, we have partnered with TBWA.  I know we are going to hear from Paula Kelly of TBWA shortly, but in the meantime, thank you Paula.


And just before I finish I would also like to thank my officials.


This campaign is coming from COSC – the main people there who have worked on this are Marion Walsh, Greg Heylin, Paula Connolly and Danny Fitzpatrick.


All the people in COSC do great work, but on the day that’s in it, the one of them who just has to be singled out is Greg.   Greg Heylin has been a loyal servant of this department since 1996.  Before that he was in the Department of Labour, where he started his career in the Civil Service.


But later today, he is ending his career here.  On his birthday, Greg is retiring.   Greg we will miss you.   We are really grateful to you for all the work, effort and sheer commitment you have given to this department over the years, and we want to wish you all the very best in your retirement.

I sincerely hope you feel this campaign is a fitting legacy…..

Thank you