Sexual violence and the recovery process: An exploration of Rape Crisis Centre counselling in Ireland
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Sexual violence is a serious and widespread problem internationally and in the Irish context. To date, research and support have placed a focus on women and girls who come to terms with its profound consequences, which are both multi-dimensional and far-reaching. Though Rape Crisis Centres (RCCs) have been at the forefront of the Irish response since 1979, a systematic assessment of their services was lacking. The broadening of the discourse around sexual violence to account for the experiences of men and boys is a recent development, and this increased awareness is reflected in the growing number of men accessing Irish RCC services, such as counselling. What is the nature of RCC counselling and is it effective? I pose these questions in the thesis in order to develop in-depth understandings of the factors that influence recovery from sexual violence and the responses required. As the central research aim is multi-faceted, I employ a multi-stage and mixed-strategy design, which is informed by feminist understandings of my key concepts. I begin by examining the conceptual framework underpinning the RCC response to sexual violence. I then assess the outcomes of the counselling services provided and seek to understand the role of these services in the recovery process. In particular, I explore how gender influences the RCC approach to working with survivors and how gender identity facilitates or impedes recovery. I also identify ways in which RCC counselling may be improved. I demonstrate that recovery is a process and an outcome, a personal journey upon which survivors encounter difficulties, but also experience growth. As such, the thesis illustrates the myriad ways in which counselling has helped survivors to cope with the issues that arise, while providing valuable insights into the dynamics and complexities of the RCC approach. The findings also enhance our understanding of the complex ways in which women and men negotiate gendered norms in the context of sexual violence. By addressing the dearth of evidence on the needs and experiences of survivors participating in sexual violence counselling, particularly men, the thesis makes important contributions to knowledge. I also make a number of recommendations based on suggestions for RCC service enhancement and it is my hope that these will inform practice and national policy.