Hospital unit reports rising trend

THERE has been a dramatic increase in the number of women attending the Sexual Assault Treatment Unit (SATU) in Dublin’s Rotunda Hospital who got too drunk to remember being assaulted.

Over a third of those who attended the unit last year suffered memory loss due to excessive alcohol consumption.

This compares to one in five who came to the unit in 2001 suffering from memory loss wondering if they were victims of assault.

SATU director, Dr Mary Holohan, is particularly concerned at the number of young girls aged between 14 and 18 who are coming into the unit having consumed large amounts of alcohol.

Last year 285 people, 269 women and 14 men, attended the unit. In 106 cases the unit helped people suffering from alcohol-induced memory loss.

More than four units of alcohol had been consumed by the victims in almost 60% of cases and drug abuse was evident in a further five cases.

In 40 of cases the possible use of the date rape drug, Rohypnol, was investigated but all tests proved negative.

“We have got to get the message out there that alcohol used wrongly and in excess is a very dangerous drug. The way we drink in Ireland at the moment is a major problem,” Dr Holohan said.

“When I was in college - and I was no angel - we drank pints and there is a natural end point to pints - you get sick. What is happening at the moment is that girls today are drinking high levels of alcohol in a sweet fizzy formulation and that is the way to maximise alcohol uptake by the stomach, so they get very drunk, very quickly,” she said.

Dr Holohan said there were not enough medical doctors available to meet the growing demand for the clinic. “We have an absolutely huge staffing problem. I just cannot get doctors who want to do this work,” she said.

The problem was not just that the rate of pay was very poor - the work was also difficult, time consuming and emotionally draining.

Dr Holohan said the establishment of a similar model to the US, where health professionals in the area of sexual assault came from a nursing background, was being explored.

Dublin Rape Crisis Centre chief executive, Rosemary Daly, said the statistics were startling because they showed people were willing to take advantage of vulnerable people.

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