As many as 60 people a day have been calling helplines for victims of sexual assault since the sentencing of sex offender Tom Humphries.
The Dublin Rape Crisis Centre (DRCC), which runs the national 24/7 helpline, saw its calls double since Wednesday, while sexual abuse charity One in Four said it has been “swamped” with calls.
Dozens also rang expressing anger at the perceived leniency of the sentencing and at expressions of sympathy for Humphries.
Humphries was sentenced last Tuesday to two-and-a-half years after pleading guilty to grooming and sexually abusing a girl. He exchanged at least 16,000 text messages with the girl over three months, leading up to March 2011, as part of the grooming process, before sexually abusing her. Some days, she received around 180 texts from him, between the hours of 10pm to 6am.
“On foot of Humphries, we have been twice as busy. A lot of people were ringing and reporting for the first time. The phone lines were crazy busy,” said DRCC chief executive Noeline Blackwell.
She said the case acted as a trigger for people for a number of reasons.
“We don’t know if it was the extent of the coverage, because there was wall-to-wall coverage, or was it more the facts of the case, or the sentence. All these things feed in,” said Ms Blackwell.
“People had either been upset by or reminded [of their own sexual abuse] by this case. Calls were from people who didn’t realise they could speak until now,” she added.
The helpline is operated by staff during the day and trained volunteers at night and those who manned it this week said the case itself and the sentencing led to the increase in calls.
“Our helpline people feel that it is because of the facts of the court case and the sentence length that brought a surge in calls,” said Ms Blackwell.
Calls were not just from people who had been sexually assaulted, but from family members of victims who wanted to express anger over “miscarriages of justice”. Some of the calls were query-based, in that people wanted advice on how to tell their parents they had been sexually assaulted.
“People asked various questions: ‘How can I tell my mother this happened?’ or ‘I don’t know if I should talk about this’,” said Ms Blackwell.
She said the public allegations of rape and sexual assault against movie producer Harvey Weinstein were also cited by callers.
“A lot of callers were referencing Weinstein. People are recognising that the only person responsible for sexual violence is the person who carried out the act,” said Ms Blackwell.
The executive director of One in Four, Maeve Lewis, said calls to its helpline were triggered by expressions of sympathy for Humphries, as well as by those who wanted to express anger at the length of his sentence.
“We have been swamped with calls from people who have been triggered by the sentencing and commenting on the sympathy he received from high-profile individuals,” said Ms Lewis.
“If I had been sexually abused by someone and heard expressions of sympathies and saw the lenient sentence I’d be wondering how seriously people were taking what happened to me,” she added.
Ms Blackwell explained that calling the helpline is an important first step for people.
“The call is the first step and it’s an important step. When enough people are talking about sexual violence, it helps,” she said.
The helpline has been operating since 1979 and there has not been one day in its history that it did not receive a call.
“It is not therapy over the phone and the call is always confidential and totally non-judgmental. We offer support and information,” said Ms Blackwell.
Humphries’s victim said she lost out on her childhood, and her education and career were impacted by the abuse. She thanked his family for reporting him to the authorities in her victim-impact statement.
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