The national director of Ireland’s sexual assault treatment units says the Covid-19 outbreak is helping to dispel “myths” around rape, with one person presenting each day despite the lockdown.
Dr Maeve Eogan, who is based at the Rotunda Hospital, in Dublin, said presentations at the country’s six SATUs are 50% of the normal volume, and that sexual violence has not stopped because of the pandemic and associated restrictions.
Dr Eogan said she conducted a comparative analysis, which showed 61 cases presenting at SATUs between March 12 and April 9 last year and 32 presenting in the same period this year.
“We are still seeing cases. Absolutely, the numbers are reduced, but sexual violence has not gone away,” said Dr Eogan.
“Rape myths and common discussions would have people saying pubs and clubs and drinking too much [are seen as possible factors] and yet, despite them being closed, we are still seeing 50% of the people we saw this time last year.
"There has been one person a day across the island of Ireland who required care from a SATU,” she said.
“It actually, in a funny way, is representing a kind of case-control study, so we can see what is the impact of pubs and clubs — and their closure does not eliminate sexual violence.”
Dr Eogan said people who have presented to SATUs in recent weeks have come from a range of groups.
The Dublin Rape Crisis Centre warned that sexual violence is a troubling and common aspect of domestic violence, including at times of national crisis.
A small number of the cases in recent weeks involved house parties, while others involved people in emergency accommodation.
DRCC chief executive Noeline Blackwell has welcomed the #stillhere awareness-raising campaign, which is highlighting that domestic and sexual violence support services, from State agencies and the voluntary sector, are still open.
She is urging anyone worried about, or affected by, sexual violence to contact the national helpline, 1800 778888.
In Cork, the head of the SATU in the South Infirmary, Margo Noonan, echoed the views of Dr Eogan about presentations and how the current lockdown “debunks the myth” about clubs, pubs, and alcohol.
So far, anyone attending at a SATU has been seen directly, but Dr Eogan said personal protective equipment has been employed in a small number of cases for people suspected of having Covid-19. Dr Eogan said each SATU has full PPE and that preparations have been made so that someone with confirmed Covid-19 could still be tested.
This is similar to Britain, where forensic testing kits can be provided to victims of rape or sexual assault and they can be talked through the sampling process.
However, both Dr Eogan and Ms Noonan said it is hoped that such measures will not be required here.
Dr Eogan said: “We have been lucky enough, in this country, to date, that anybody who required SATU services who also required a diagnostic test for Covid-19 was able to access that test in and around the time of the forensic examination.
“Like all healthcare environments, we are trying to limit face-to-face contact and when they attend, we are doing some of the details and history-taking by phone from the waiting room, the same as GP practitioners and other healthcare environments,” Dr Eogan said.