Rape attacks increase - Rape crisis centres play a vital role

RAPE ranks among the most heinous of crimes, and it is therefore extremely worrying that sexual attacks

Another disturbing feature of the growing volume of rape in Irish society is the revelation that over a third of the 10,000 reports received by the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre were made by adolescents aged between 15 and 19 years old, while over 10% of complaints were from girls under 15 years of age.

Equally distressing is that less than one out of three offences are reported to the gardaí. This is regrettable but understandable.

One reason for the marked reluctance of victims to go the gardaí is that most people are either abused, assaulted or raped by people they know. Many women fear that because of the adversarial nature of Ireland's legal system, they run the risk of being smeared in the courts, often without any justification or recourse.

For people in local communities, the resulting innuendo and rumour, no matter how unfounded, can result in character assassination.

According to the chief executive of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, Muireann O'Briain, the number of people affected by sexual assaults is now rapidly increasing. In a worrying trend, a growing number of attacks are made by complete strangers.

This pattern is borne out by statistics showing that, in the year 200, one in four attacks (25%) were committed by people unknown to their victims. A year later the proportion had risen sharply to 32%. And while final figures are not yet available, all the indications suggest the trend continued last year.

The most likely explanation for this phenomenon is the fact that a large number of women have been raped when they were drunk. Though many claimed their drinks were spiked with date-rape drugs like rophynolthis has not necessarily been borne out by toxicology examinations, which often find extremely high levels of alcohol in rape victims.

We cannot deny that the abuse of alcohol in Irish societyespecially by young peopleis now at crisis level. So prevalent is the culture of binge drinking, among young women in particular, that a doctor working at the cliff-face of this problem in the Rotunda Hospital's sexual assault treatment unit reports that only in the Coroner's Court had she experienced similar evidence of excessive drinking.

To put this in perspective, there has been over a fourfold increase in the number of requests by women to determine whether they had been sexually assaulted the night before, as they were unable to remember because they had drunk so much.

Be that as it may, the fact that a woman may be drunk to the point of helplessness does not mitigate the shocking crime of rape. If anything, it imposes an extra responsibility on those in her company to ensure she gets safely home.

Given the trauma suffered by women who have been attacked, it would be hard to exaggerate the importance of the role played by rape crisis centres around the country. Heavily reliant on voluntary contributions, they deserve generous support for their vital work in helping so many women recover from the appalling crime of rape.

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