Cork sanctuary for homeless people suffering sexual violence would provide protection

Taoiseach Micheál Martin is to meet Cork leaders battling homelessness and sexual violence to discuss plans to open a pilot rape crisis shelter for homeless people who suffer sexual violence
Cork sanctuary for homeless people suffering sexual violence would provide protection

Mary Crilly from Cork Sexual Violence Centre: 'No woman, no man, nobody should suffer like this.' Picture: Jim Coughlan

Taoiseach Micheál Martin is to meet Cork leaders battling homelessness and sexual violence in the coming days to discuss plans to open a pilot rape crisis shelter for homeless people who suffer sexual violence.

Pressure to open such a shelter has increased following a harrowing new report which found that more than one third of homeless people have been sexually assaulted.

Caitriona Twomey from Cork Penny Dinners, Mary Crilly from the Cork Sexual Violence Centre, and sexual abuse survivor and campaigner Lavinia Kerwick are to meet Mr Martin for the second time to solidify plans to open a sanctuary for homeless people following sexual assault.

Ms Twomey is now appealing for anyone with a building with a garden and space to accommodate about seven people, to get in touch.

Caitriona Twomey from Cork Penny Dinners is  appealing for anyone with a building with a garden and space to accommodate about seven people, to get in touch. Picture: Dan Linehan
Caitriona Twomey from Cork Penny Dinners is  appealing for anyone with a building with a garden and space to accommodate about seven people, to get in touch. Picture: Dan Linehan

She hopes to open the shelter before Christmas.

“Providing sanctuary for people when sexual violence takes place will give them a chance to recover," Ms Twomey said.  

"They’ll be safe and won’t have to go out in the freezing cold and rain to face the perpetrator again, a new perpetrator or a few perpetrators. This sexual violence they suffer could be happening every night, it could happen a couple of times a night. 

"So we’ll provide safety and protection for them. That’s the first thing they need, and then give them a space to begin healing.

Anyone who’s been raped or sexually abused needs a sanctuary inside themselves, but for people on the street, they need to be in a sanctuary before they can find that inner sanctuary.

“We hope to have it open by Christmas, if not, early spring. If this works, we can emulate it elsewhere. We could start with about six beds and then maybe open another house.

“We met with Micheál Martin last year, he’s agreed to come on board, he saw the genuine need for it. We’re in the second phase now. We’re looking for a premises and will be meeting other relevant agencies in Cork."

Ms Crilly has come to recognise the trauma of rape and sexual violence in the people she helps daily.

Sexual predators

She said both women and men are frequently raped and sexually assaulted on the streets, sometimes suffering multiple sexual attacks in one night or being targeted by a group of sexual predators.

“You can see it in their eyes when something happens. You see that same look in so many faces," Ms Crilly said.

Then you see the horror, ‘it happened again face’. It’s awful to look from one woman to another. Then she goes out and it happens to her again, or to a man, or a young boy or young girl.

“No woman, no man, nobody should suffer like this.” 

The shelter will also connect homeless sexual assault survivors with other services so that when they leave the shelter they have a better chance of integrating into the community, finding their confidence, finding a home and finding a job.

A newly published study called Empowerment to Rights conducted interviews with 100 homeless adults in Dublin last year.

Some 40% of these people reported experiencing sexual assault, while those who were LGBTQ+ reported particularly high levels of sexual violence and harassment.

A total of 98% of respondents said they felt unsafe without a home.

“That report really validates what we say,” Ms Twomey said. “And people need help now.” 

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