Attendances at sexual assault unit up by more than 30%

There was a 31% increase in the number of individuals attending the sexual assault treatment unit (SATU) in Cork last year.

Figures show a total of 140 new patients being treated at the unit in the South Infirmary Victoria University Hospital during 2017.

That compared to 107 cases in the previous year. The 2017 figure is the highest annual total in the past 15 years.

The medical director of National SATU Services, which is based in Dublin’s Rotunda Hospital, Dr Maeve Eogan, said increased education and awareness programmes provided by clinical nurse specialists had contributed to the increase in the Cork unit last year.

The Cork SATU is staffed on a 24/7 basis by two clinical nurse specialists, four on-call forensic medical doctors, and seven on-call support nurses.

Overall, the six SATUs in the Republic, which are in Dublin, Cork Waterford, Mullingar, Galway, and Letterkenny, reported a 21.5% increase in new cases last year.

A total of 865 men and women attended the units after reporting being the victim of either rape or sexual assault in 2017 — an additional 153 cases over 2016 levels.

The latest annual SATU report shows that 68% of patients reported the incident to gardaí while a further 9% availed of a new facility to have forensic evidence of their attack stored while they waited to make a decision on whether or not to report the crime.

All victims of sexual assault are made aware by SATU staff that relevant samples of forensic evidence can be collected and stored for up to 12 months which can be used for any criminal investigation.

Dr Eogan said around 15% of the 79 people who allowed forensic evidence to be stored subsequently reported the incident to gardaí.

This option provides opportunities to increase reporting of sexual crime which can only be a benefit,” Dr Eogan said.

According to SATU figures, half of all patients last year were attacked by a stranger or recent acquaintance.

In 13% of cases, the offenders was a current or former partner or close relative.

Over 80% of incidents occurred between 8pm and 8am which Dr Eogan said “underpinned the need for a round-the-clock service”.

Figures show 43% of patients had consumed more than six standard alcoholic drinks in the 12 hours before the incident but 30% had not taken any alcohol.

Around one in ten expressed concern that drugs had been used to facilitate the sexual assault on them.

The average age of people attending SATUs last year was 26.

Females accounted for 92% of cases.

Patients were unsure if a sexual assault had occurred in 18% of incidents.

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