While most people are abused, assaulted or raped by people they know, a growing number of attackers are now unknown to their victims, chief executive officer of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre Muireann O'Briain said.
Figures compiled by the centre in 2000 found that about one in four attacks, or 25%, were committed by strangers. In 2001 this figure had increased to more than a third (32%) and preliminary results for 2002 are expected to show a further increase in stranger rape and assault.
The number of crisis telephone calls to the centre is also increasing significantly, Ms O'Briain said. In 2001, the number of genuine calls exceeded 10,000, which was almost double the number of cries for help received in 2000. While the final figures for 2002 will not be published until at least May, she said there had been an increase in the number of calls received.
"People who have suffered abuse in institutions or family settings are now more willing to come forward because the issue is being debated publicly," Ms O'Briain said.
Ms O'Briain said reports questioning the credibility of someone who had been drinking and said they were sexually assaulted made it more difficult for people to seek help or report the crime.
A Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children, which is investigating the effect of alcohol on hospital attendances, heard last week that there had been more than a four-fold increase in the number of requests by women attending the Rotunda Hospital sexual assault treatment unit (SATU) for the staff to determine whether they had been sexually assaulted.
They were unable to remember because of alcohol intake.
Many of the women at the unit believed their drink had been spiked with some date-rape drug, but according to the director of SATU, Dr Mary Holohan, while toxicology reports have never found the presence of such drugs, they do show the level of
alcohol in someone's system is often so high it would normally be found in a coroner's report on a dead person.
Ms O'Briain acknowledged there was a binge drinking culture in Ireland, but said whether someone was drinking did not change the fact they had been assaulted or raped.