'Emergency situation': Victims of rape wait a year for counselling

'Emergency situation': Victims of rape wait a year for counselling

Regional rape crisis centres are facing an emergency situation, the Rape Crisis Network of Ireland said. Picture: Photocall Ireland

Survivors of sexual violence can wait well over a year to be assigned a counsellor as chronic underfunding results in long waiting lists, rape crisis centres have said.

Regional centres are facing an “emergency situation”, the Rape Crisis Network of Ireland said, with demand for services around the country increasing exponentially.

The network’s 2020 statistics report states there were 15,194 appointments for counselling and support in 2020, up 26% on the previous year, and 13,068 helpline contacts, up 22%.

Over the past decade, there has been a 100% increase in contacts to helplines, a 63% increase in appointments provided by the centres, and a 30% increase in the number of survivors and supporters attending the facilities.

However, the seven network member rape crisis centres detailed in the report currently have 332 people on their waiting lists, and this figure is rising.

Waiting lists vary between centres, with some at eight weeks and others exceeding a year.

The centres said they endeavour to ensure there is no waiting list for those seeking support in the immediate aftermath of a rape.

The report states that underfunding is “leading to an inability to train, recruit and retain counsellors resulting in long waiting lists for survivors in urgent need of support”.

The lack of resources for training and recruitment also results in the sector "losing out on valuable expertise”, the report says.

Local helplines are frequently being used by survivors to replace or supplement a planned programme of counselling, the report states, adding that these services are “dependent on annual funding that is uncertain, inadequate and unstable”.

“Our fundraising has been decimated by the pandemic with the result that our centres now face fast dwindling bank balances,” the report says.

Anne Scully, manager of the Waterford rape and sexual abuse centre, said its current waiting list is at least three months long, and often exceeds six months.

“We are operating a waiting list which is growing and we are getting calls from people who are in crisis and we try to help them as best we can, but resources are limited in that regard,” she said.

“It’s hugely difficult to say to somebody that you have got all the courage up to come in and begin to face all that has happened to you, and then we’re unfortunately saying you won’t be able to do that for some months.” 

Ms Scully said: “The heart of the issue is that survivors are left to struggle, feeling isolated and alone”.

Vera O’Leary, manager of the Kerry rape and sexual abuse centre, said she has worked with the centre for 30 years.

"In all of those years, I have never experienced the waiting list that we currently have and the amount of people that are contacting our service," she said.

"We now have a lot more young people being referred and accessing our services. I can't definitively say it was because they were spending more time at home which led them to disclose, but we have definitely seen an increase in the number of people under 18 availing of our service."

Rape Crisis Network of Ireland executive director Clíona Sáidlear acknowledged that 2020 was “incredibly traumatic”, which triggered a surge in demand for support from survivors.

However, she said: “These figures are part of a pattern of increased need without a concomitant increase in funding.

“Our sector is consistently expected to deliver supports at lower costs: after a decade of austerity, by 2019 we were still struggling to reach 2008 levels of funding. We now call on the Government to commit to a programme of multi-annual funding."

A spokesman for Tusla, the State agency which predominantly funds the centres, said funding for sexual violence/rape crisis services has increased by 32% since 2016.

The spokesman added that Tusla is aware of the demands for services and is "actively engaged" with providers "around solutions to ease service pressures".

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