The eight-hour waiting time for rape victims in the South East has been eliminated by a new sexual assault treatment unit, it emerged today.
The 24-hour unit was set up in Waterford Regional Hospital last year so that rape victims could be medically examined immediately to obtain the crucial evidence needed for a court prosecution.
The Waterford Rape Crisis Centre said it meant victims no longer had to travel to sexual treatment units in Dublin or Cork, or wait up to eight hours for a qualified GP to be found.
“It’s professional, it’s immediate, it’s sensitive and the people who are doing it wouldn’t be doing it unless they were aware of the sensitivity surrounding it,” said manager Shelia Vereker.
She said it might encourage more rape victims to report what had happened to them.
“There’s still a huge number of people out there who don’t report to anyone, who are actually too ashamed and who blame themselves and who are afraid of being judged and disbelieved. That’s what we get normally from people who’ve been raped, they’re judging themselves.”
The Waterford Rape Crisis Centre is dealing with around 60 rape victims each week, some of whom are coming forward for the first time and others who have been in contact for several years.
The new sexual treatment unit in Waterford Regional Hospital provides a co-ordinated service for men and women in a discreet part of the hospital who have been raped or sexually assaulted.
Victims can get counselling, pregnancy testing, post-coital contraceptive services, shower facilities, a clean change of clothes and referrals to sexually transmitted infection units.
Ms Vereker said the campaign to open the unit began in 1999 after a rape victim had to wait eight hours until a GP was found to carry out a medical examination.
“And of course that was repeated over the years. It was totally unacceptable and totally traumatic on top of a traumatic incident already,” she said.
She added: “One of the first awful feelings for a victim is that ‘I’m dirty. I need to wash’ and of course with the (need for) forensics you could not do that.”
The Health Services Executive said it could not reveal the number of victims treated at the new unit because of confidentiality promises made to patients.
Its South Eastern area women’s health officer Roisin Egenton thanked the GPs and nurses, gardaí and rape crisis volunteers for their efforts, on the first anniversary of the unit’s foundation.
“Sexual assault is a traumatic and harrowing experience for any individual and our service enables victims to access forensic medical services and a wide range of health and counselling services (via Rape Crisis),” she said.