Sexual assault treatment units at risk of closure

THE future of three of the country’s four sexual assault treatment units (SATUs) is in jeopardy because of a lack of funding and a shortage of staff.

A review of the treatment services, carried out on behalf of the Government, has found:

* The unit in the Rotunda Hospital in Dublin, which conducts 300 forensic medical examinations a year, “is now at crisis point” because of staffing difficulties.

* In Waterford Regional Hospital, the funding for GPs carrying out forensic examinations is only guaranteed for one year. Because of staff shortages, services are only available to rape victims who wish to report a crime.

* In Letterkenny General Hospital, the service is limited to the Donegal region only, due to staffing shortages and difficulties attracting GPs. The review says the unit “is struggling to remain open”.

None of the three SATUs receives Government funding. The only unit that has secured funding from the Department of Health is in Cork. That funding was secured while Micheál Martin was Health Minister.

The report warns that Cork is “the only SATU that can be confident regarding its sustainability”.

The review, carried out by a subgroup of the National Steering Committee for Violence Against Women for the Departments of Health and Justice, also found the absence of SATUs in some parts of the country, particularly the West and the Midlands, was leading to lower reporting rates.

The report recommends that new units be set up, one in Galway, the other in the Midlands. It has also recommended that a dedicated interview room be available at a garda station in each region of the HSE, because lack of facilities “may deter victims from proceeding with the case”.

Labour TDs Joan Burton, Breeda Moynihan Cronin and Liz McManus called on the Government to act immediately upon the recommendations of the report.

“The availability of dedicated medical services in relation to rape and sex assault is fundamental to successfully prosecuting the perpetrator,” Ms Burton said. “Over and over again, cases do not proceed to court... because of the lack of services to compile forensic evidence in an appropriate way.”

The Rape Crisis Network of Ireland (RCNI) said the Rotunda had had to close its SATU services on a number of occasions because of staff shortages.

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