Rape victims forced to go to Dublin for tests

VICTIMS of rape in Galway and Mullingar have to travel to Dublin to be examined following an attack, as promised sexual assault units have not yet been opened.

According to Ellen O’Malley-Dunlop, chief executive of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, €2.4 million was allocated for two Sexual Assault Treatment Units (SATU) in the 2006 budget, but, as yet, they have not come on stream.

“The money was made available in the December 2006 budget announcement to update the existing units, and open new ones. A SATU at Letterkenny is not operational and new units, one in Mullingar and one in Galway, are not yet open.”

Ms O’Malley-Dunlop said the recommendations had come from a special study on sexual health.

“It specified that two additional units were required, and more training was needed in the forensics side of things,” she said.

Ms O’Malley-Dunlop said that while a lot of work has been done on the training side of things, she did not know why, two years later, the additional SATUs were not ready.

“I don’t know what the delay is. Currently, when someone reports a rape to gardaí, if a case is to be made, they have to be examined forensically at a dedicated sexual assault unit. For someone in Galway to have to travel to Dublin is further trauma that they might not want to face,” said Ms O’Malley-Dunlop.

This comes at a time when Ireland has the lowest reporting rate of sexual assault or rape in Europe.

Figures released to Minister for Equality, Disability and Mental Health John Maloney, at the launch of the DRCC’s second Awareness Raising Campaign yesterday, show the number of victims of rape and sexual assault attending the Sexual Assault Treatment Unit in the Rotunda Hospital has more than doubled since 2001 — 320 people attended the unit in 2007 compared with 158 in 2001.

Ms O’Malley-Dunlop said she hoped the campaign would encourage victims of rape and sexual abuse to lift the phone and call the national helpline number on 1800 77 88 88.

“This will hopefully be their first step towards the promise that there is a new beginning at the end of the line for each and every person who makes that call,” she said.

“The campaign is about encouraging people who have suffered a recent rape, sexual assault or a past rape or childhood sexual abuse, to come forward and avail of the help that is here in the rape crisis centres countrywide.”

A spokeswoman for the HSE said work is progressing on the Sexual Assault Treatment Unit at the Midland Regional Hospital in Mullingar and it is due to open before Christmas.

The HSE also confirmed funding has been provided for the development of a permanent Sexual Assault Treatment Unit at Merlin Park Hospital in Galway.

“In the meantime, HSE West has recently received approval for the development of a temporary facility which will be located in the city and will house this service pending completion of the unit at Merlin Park,” said a spokesperson.

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