Ireland ‘in grip of sexual violence crisis’; Rape Crisis Centre sees demand for services soar

Ireland ‘in grip of sexual violence crisis’; Rape Crisis Centre sees demand for services soar
Noeline Blackwell (left) and Katherine Zappone

Ireland is in the grip of a sexual violence epidemic, according to the chief executive of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre (DRCC).

Noeline Blackwell has called for a new type of conversation around issues including consent and pornography as figures from its latest annual report reveal that, in three-quarters of cases involving adults, the perpetrator was known to the victim.

The report shows that the demand for its services is higher than ever, as almost 14,000 people contacted the organisation last year, with more than half of those contacting its National 24-Hour Helpline doing so for the first time.

The DRCC said it experienced a spike in contacts in March and April of last year, probably due to coverage of the Belfast rape trial, and the organisation said that, despite a rise in government funding, it is struggling to cope with demand.

The annual report for last year also shows that while almost a quarter of adults were attacked by a stranger, just under one in five were assaulted by their boyfriend or partner. In three-quarters of cases involving adults, the perpetrator was known to them.

These and other findings have led the DRCC to call for an increase in the services available to victims of rape and sexual assault as well as a fresh focus on how to deal with issues such as consent and pornography.

Ms Blackwell said the lack of a ‘Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland II’-style report was hampering Government and State agencies in knowing best how to help victims and how to prevent rape and sexual assault from happening.

“The real problem is for the State, which is engaging in and spending money to try to deliver services,” she said. “If it was a different kind of epidemic, an epidemic of measles, we would have all the different departments meeting about how to deal with this.”

  • The annual report, to be published today, shows

  • 13,949 contacts with DRCC clinical services last year, of which 13,367 were National 24-Hour Helpline contacts, with 4,228 face-to-face therapy appointments delivered to 582 clients;
  • Of those helpline contacts, 7,423 were people making disclosures to DRCC for the first time, and just over 21% were male;
  • One third of calls related to childhood sexual abuse, while 44.8% of calls related to adult rape and 11.1% to other forms of adult sexual violence.
  • A third those contacting the helpline were from outside Dublin;
  • 254 people were accompanied to the Rotunda Sexual Assault Treatment Unit, court, or garda stations;
  • Female clients disclosed 13 pregnancies as a result of rape.

DRCC chairwoman Ann Marie Gill said that, at the midway point of 2019, “demand for the DRCC’s services is higher than it has been for many years because more people than ever are disclosing and seeking help”.

Ms Blackwell said while it was unknown whether this was because more people needed help or because more people were making disclosures, it highlighted deficits in how sexual violence is dealt with as “a public health issue”.

She referred to the lack of therapeutic services for people in need, the fact that every garda division does not have a protective services unit, and the need for more education for young people to “filter the harm around them”.

She said the online world was more prevalent than ever in terms of how people meet, adding: “The law and practice lags behind the technological advances and people’s capacity to do harm.”

Publicity around the high-profile Belfast rape trial last March and April saw the phone “hopping”, said Ms Blackwell.

The DRCC received an additional 10% in state funding this year but Ms Blackwell said it is still not enough.

Today’s launch, which is to be attended by Minister for Health Simon Harris, will also see a new pilot e-health initiative called ‘Moving Forward from Sexual Violence’, involving online psycho-education backed up by telephone assessment and counselling.

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