Government criticised for failing victims of sexual abuse

THE Government was criticised yesterday for its continuing failure to publish a blueprint for improving treatment services for victims of sexual assault.

The Rape Crisis Network of Ireland (RCNI) said a review submitted to the Department of Health late last year had still not been published.

The review called for three of the State's four sexual assault treatment units (SATUs) to be given statutory funding and for two more units to be built.

The call from the RCNI followed reports in yesterday's Irish Examiner of a dire shortage of forensic doctors able and willing to do garda work, including the examination and treatment of sexual assault victims.

The Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) and expert Professor Denis Cusack of UCD backed calls from the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI) for a structured system to be set up which would provide a round-the-clock, forensic medical service.

Medical experts said victims of sexual assault were still being driven up to 100 miles across the country to get forensic medical treatment.

RCNI spokeswoman Clíona Saidlear said the current situation was putting victims off reporting assaults and proceeding with prosecutions. "What we're looking at is survivors travelling long distances, survivors reporting a crime and saying 'you want me to sit in a car for the next three hours without a shower' and walking away from the process, walking away from criminal justice system altogether."

She said the idea of sitting in the back of a garda car for an hour and a half to Dublin was often too traumatic.

"The situation is really bad in terms of forensic medical services. It's just not adequately served throughout the country. Even where there are existing sexual assault treatment units, sometimes the staffing levels are not there."

Ms Saidlear said a review of SATUs comprising representatives of the departments of justice and health, the gardaí, the

RCNI and doctors had worked for a year-and-a-half to develop guidelines on the area. The report, complete with recommendations, had been sent to the Department of Health last October.

"We're waiting on the review to be published. We would have expected it in January or February. Nothing happens until the department publishes them and puts their money where their mouth is."

She said that as far as she knew no money had been set aside for this year's budget regarding the funding of the SATUs.

A spokesman for the Department of Health said the SATU report would be published very shortly.

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