10% of sex assault unit attendees store evidence while considering complaint

Prior to introduction of 'Option 3', People had to make an all or nothing decision in terms of collection of forensic evidence, say experts
10% of sex assault unit attendees store evidence while considering complaint

In the four years to the end of July 2020, there were 1,258 attendances at the Dublin SATU (832 patients were 18 or over), with 10% choosing Option 3.

One in ten people who attend a sexual assault treatment unit (SATU) have forensic evidence stored so they can decide whether to tell gardaí at a later stage.

Storage of forensic evidence without reporting to An Garda Síochána, known as Option 3, was introduced in August 2016. In the four years to the end of July 2020, there were 1,258 attendances at the Dublin SATU (832 patients were 18 or over), with 10% choosing Option 3.

Authors of research on Option 3, including Dr Maeve Eogan, gynaecologist and head of the Rotunda SATU, point out that prior to the introduction of the option, “People had to make an 'all or nothing' decision in terms of collection of forensic evidence."

According to the research, published in the Irish Journal of Medical Science, 31% of those attending the SATU did so within 24 hours of the assault, 62% said the assailant was a stranger and recent acquaintance, and in 16% of all presentations, drugs "facilitated" the sexual assault.

It found that 20% of the 127 people who opted for Option 3 subsequently reported the incident to gardaí, 60% within seven days, and 80% within one month.

Of those who subsequently reported to gardaí, four in five had their evidence retrieved by gardaí for analysis. Another 3% (four people from the initial 127) requested that their evidence kits be kept for an additional year.

The research authors state: "The fact that 20% of those who availed of this option subsequently reported to An Garda Síochána underpins the value of the initiative in increasing reporting of sexual crime.”

Overall,  a third of assaults occurred outdoors and one in five at the assailant's home.

Of those who chose Option 3, 93% were female, the mean age was 26, and 70% said a sexual assault had occurred. The remaining 30% were unsure.

According to the study, entitled Collection and storage of forensic evidence to enable subsequent reporting of a sexual crime to the police (Option 3) —an Irish experience, "attendances at SATUs in Ireland are increasing year on year, although the true prevalence of sexual crime is unknown and is likely a lot higher than reported".

It said the purpose of Option 3 for those 18 years and older ensures that forensic evidence is collected and stored securely within the SATU and "gives a patient time to decide whether they wish to engage with the criminal justice system and ensures that vital evidence is not lost should a formal complaint subsequently be made".

As well as Dr Eogan, the authors of the research include Dr Daniel Kane (SATU forensic examiner and higher specialist trainee in obstetrics and gynaecology) and Christine Pucillo (clinical nurse specialist, SATU).

Dr Eogan said: "While there is no statute of limitation on reporting sexual crime, so people could have always gone on to report an incident, even many years after it occurred, the benefit of this initiative is that we securely store the forensic samples in SATU so these forensic samples can then be released as part of any subsequent investigation. 

20% went on to report the incident to An Garda Síochána, and most who did so reported within the first month.

There are six SATUs around the country and the 2019 annual report showed that the Rotunda SATU was the busiest in the country that year.

During the first lockdown associated with the Covid-19 pandemic, Dr Eogan told the Irish Examiner that presentations were still half of normal levels, despite the restrictions, something she said dispelled “myths” around rape.

The research also outlined "an interesting finding" that 30% of attendees were unsure whether a sexual assault had occurred compared with 15% of other types of attendance to SATU.

"This is worthy of further study, but it may be that patients are less likely to report an incident about which they have limited recollection to An Garda  Síochána immediately, for fear of judgment or not being believed," it said. "Anecdotally, patients have attended a SATU for a forensic examination with the hope that the physical examination would provide evidence as to whether sexual activity had occurred."

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