No extra funding for sexual assault units

NO extra money will be made available for sexual assault units this year despite a Government review which found their survival is in jeopardy due to a funding crisis.

The report, Sexual Assault Treatment Services — A National Review, launched yesterday, found three of the four units — in Cork, Dublin, Waterford and Donegal — are struggling to remain open because of funding and staff shortages. The sexual assault treatment unit (SATU) in Cork is the only unit to have guaranteed funding, secured while Cork TD Micheál Martin was health minister.

The review also found the absence of SATUs, particularly in the West and Midlands, was leading to lower reporting rates of sexual crime. To combat this, the review recommends SATUs for Galway and the Midlands at an estimated set-up cost of €320,000.

However, at the report launch, junior health minister Seán Power made no funding commitment.

Acknowledging that “this is a complex and sensitive area which provides vital services and support to people in crisis”, Mr Power’s only reference to funding was to say: “The Health Service Executive (HSE) are currently examining this proposal with view to securing funding in 2007.”

A HSE spokesperson confirmed additional funding would be sought this year, but would not be available until next year. The spokesperson said they would seek funding to implement the report’s recommendations in full, estimated at €2.8 million. However, no additional funding would be sought for the violence against women sector, which is capped at €12m since 2002.

The Rape Crisis Network of Ireland (RCNI) said it was “deeply disappointed” with the lack of Government urgency on the issue. RCNI executive director Fiona Neary said this “lethargic approach” to providing adequately for victims of sexual violence was all too familiar.

Ms Neary said: “We are already behind schedule. The review envisaged securing the four existing units and establishing two much-needed new units in 2006 in the West and the Midlands. The full budget implications of the review are estimated at €2,815,612, a relatively low price to pay to meet the basic rights to care and due process of victims.”

Separately, the report recommends nurses be trained to specialise in forensic clinical examinations of victims of recent sexual crime and to give expert evidence in court.

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