The country’s six sexual assault treatment units saw more than 1,000 people last year — the first time the treatment centres have breached the 1,000 barrier since they began collecting annual data in 2009.
Dr Maeve Eogan, national clinical lead for the treatment units, said the number of people seen by the centres in Cork, Donegal, Dublin, Galway, Mullingar, and Waterford increased by almost 200 people last year.
A fifth of those who attended sexual assault treatment units (SATUs) were aged 14 to 17, while the proportion of those reporting the crime to gardaí fell below 60%. Dr Eogan said:
“If you are an optimist you would say more people know about our service, so hopefully the totality of sexual crime is not increasing and people are seeking care and seeking support and accessing that at a time and place that suits them and is responsive to their needs.
“But we don’t know that for sure and it could be that sexual crime is increasing.
There is a whole lot of international evidence that the acute services see the tip of the iceberg as such, in terms of people reaching out for care after sexual crime.
“I would hope that the iceberg is not getting bigger but that the tip [of it] we are seeing is getting bigger.”
Dr Eogan said the majority of people attending the units had reported the crime and attended for assistance and to have DNA evidence taken, while another group of people attending do not wish to make a report to gardaí.
However, a third group, estimated to equate to around 15% of attendees, are unsure about making a report but have DNA evidence stored in case they wish to report to gardaí at a later stage.
SATUs retain the evidence for a year initially and potentially for longer.
While the taking of DNA evidence and initial screening can only be done at SATUs, there has been a growing number of outreach centres around the country in other locations allowing for follow-up care.
An outreach clinic opened in Bantry Co Cork last year, linked to the Cork SATU and, in December, another outreach clinic opened in Tralee, again linked to the Cork unit.
The head of the Cork SATU, Margo Noonan, said the Tralee clinic was opened on the basis of the success of the Bantry clinic.
“We started in December, we did our first clinic and got to see our first patient then which was great because there were people looking for it for a long time,” she said.
Dr Eogan stressed that the best societal response to sexual crime is that each incident is reported.
“When people talk about education in colleges, absolutely there does need to be but we cannot forget the very critical role of in-school education, parental education and societal discussion starting from an early age and letting children know that they have a right to bodily integrity and letting children know what to do if something is not right,” she said.