Survivors of rape and sexual assault are waiting between six and nine months for counselling at the Ennis branch of the Rape Crisis Midwest, due to increased demand for services and cuts to funding, it has emerged.
Last year, the Ennis centre, along with the one in Nenagh, were forced to close for a month, due to a funding shortfall. The funding situation remains “critical”.
Ann Ginnane, counsellor and psychotherapist with the Ennis centre, explained that while the waiting times are lengthy, people who present in crisis are prioritised.
“Of our clients, 70% approximately would have suffered historic sexual abuse and 30% would be people who have been recently raped. We have a waiting list of about six to nine months, as we are only open here in Ennis two days a week.
“But when there is an emergency, or if someone contacts us in crisis, we try to prioritise them. We always follow up. We never leave people out on a limb,” she said.
Ms Ginnane explained that reporting of sexual offence court cases, while unpleasant reading, often prompts people who have experienced sexual violence to seek help themselves.
“Over the past two years or so, since sex abuse allegations have come to light in the courts, and in the media, there has been an increase in people looking for our services,” she said.
“While it is daunting for people to hear these things, it has a positive outcome in that people seek counselling or psychotherapy. Of course, counselling and psychotherapy are not for everyone and some people can find their way without it but others find it very helpful,” she added.
Counselling is not a quick fix for the trauma or emotional impact of sexual crimes; according to Ms Ginnane, treatment can range from six weeks to two years. This is part of the reason the waiting list is so long and also why it is variable.
Verena Tarpey of Rape Crisis Midwest, Limerick, described the funding situation in the region as “critical.”
“We currently receive no funding to service the overheads connected with the centre in Ennis. It is managed by Ann Ginnane, who works part-time, serving the entire county of Clare, with approximately 40 hours of counselling sessions per month in Ennis.
“In the entire Mid-West, we must try and raise approximately €130,000 every year. Despite repeated cuts over the past number of years, the demand for our service remains high,” she stated.
Ms Ginnane praised the work of the local fundraising committee, noting donations are what is keeping the Ennis outreach centre open at the moment.
“We are indebted to people in the Mid-West. They have supported us in every way they can. While the topic of sexual abuse and rape is a difficult one and it can be hard to hear about, the other side of that is the support offered by the public,” she said.
Ms Ginnane would like to see an expanded Rape Crisis service in the county, one that leaves no person waiting months for counselling.
“Ten years ago, we hoped to develop the Clare branch, in terms of expanding its opening hours and also bringing it to other parts of the county because people who attend counselling or psychotherapy do not want to travel long distances to attend it.
“We had hoped to bring an outreach branch to the West – maybe Kilrush, for example, that was our goal – but, with the downturn in the economy, that wasn’t feasible. We are lucky to be able to retain the service in Ennis two days a week,” she stated.
Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RCNI), the representative body for 11 of the 16 Rape Crisis Centres in the country, including Rape Crisis Midwest, recently published its national statistics for last year.
Since April this year, no State funding is being allocated to the RCNI for the collection of information on the experience of survivors of sexual violence and all other research reports.
According to Ms Tarpey, the RCNI’s role “includes data collection, supporting rape crisis centres in best practice and training, lobbying policy and social change in society”.
She continued, “It was founded over 30 years ago, by member centres, to represent their best interest. Survivors are at the heart of the strategic vision of change. Tusla has withdrawn 100% of core funding recently. This impacts greatly on the work of Rape Crisis Midwest and the outreach centre in Ennis.
“Every phonecall, visit and counselling session in our centre in Ennis is recorded on the RCNI database system – this is currently in limbo, as a result of the withdrawal of funding.
“Who will be the independent voice for survivors in helping to lobby for change in laws and social policy? Who will ensure that best practice guidelines are met in the future?” she asked.
“Survivors, both men and women, of childhood sexual abuse are often silenced for years. The withdrawal of funding is another way in which survivors are being curtailed and silenced.
“We need this independent voice for those who have suffered the pain of childhood or recent sexual assault,” she continued.
Ms Tarpey stated that the waiting list for appointments with Rape Crisis Midwest is currently approximately three months.
“However, we always endeavour to see someone within a week or two to offer them counselling, while on the waiting list,” she added.
At Rape Crisis Midwest, there has also been an increase in men using the service.
“We have noticed an increase in men contacting our centre over the last number of years, illustrating a growing awareness of the service being available to men,” Ms Tarpey said.
Rape Crisis Midwest can be contacted on Freephone 1800311511, with further details on their website at www.rapecrisis.ie.
By Nicola Corless