Rape Crisis Mid-West says it has received 1,120 calls in first eight months of 2021
MORE Clare victims of sexual assault are seeking support from a regional support centre following a 29% rise in non-aggravated local cases over a 12-month period.
The number of sexual assaults, which were not aggravated in the Clare Garda Division, rose from 17 from January to August 2020 to 22 for the same period in 2021.
This increase was revealed at a Joint Policing Committee meeting this week.
Rape Crisis Mid-West Centre, which deals with calls and counselling services in Limerick, Nenagh and Ennis, has experienced a major increase in calls for support over the last 12 months.
This has resulted in an increase in waiting times, with some victims waiting up to seven or eight months for regular non-emergency counselling.
In an interview with the Clare Champion, Rape Crisis Mid-West director, Miriam Duffy, revealed the centre has received 1,120 calls for the first eight months of this year.
“Definitely, there has been a big increase in calls this year. A lot of phone calls are taking longer to deal with. There are a number of different factors that is contributing to this increase.
“If someone is in an abusive relationship, they couldn’t get out as much due to lockdown.
“There is some anecdotal evidence there was a certain amount of stuff happening through lockdown when people were not supposed to be moving around, but they were.
“If a sexual assault happened, a person felt ‘if I report this, I must put my hands up to the fact I was somewhere I shouldn’t have been’.”
Counsellors believe the long stays at home and people being away from work may have triggered many people to think about abuse in their past lives and decided recently it was time to seek help.
“Because people had the time to reflect on what had happened to them they couldn’t bury it within themselves, which is what a lot of victims do if something happens.
“It is pretty normal for victims to blame themselves -‘I shouldn’t have been there, I shouldn’t have done this, it is my fault’. A large part of the initial work we do with victims is to establish this is not their fault.
“Because people didn’t have the normal things to distract them, and the pressure that Covid-19 put on everyone, people spent a lot of time on their own even in a house where they found their own corner to reflect before they made the decision to report.”
Following a lot of publicity on the consent issue, Ms Duffy believes victims are becoming less fearful about coming forward to report a sexual assault to the centre or the gardaí.
“It is an extremely difficult thing for someone to do. The trauma of sexual assault and rape affects everyone differently. That is why the Rape Crisis Centre model works because everyone is treated as an individual.”
Counselling sessions are provided weekly at the centre, which doesn’t limit the number because they don’t know how long it will take to deal with their history of sexual abuse.
Once a person makes a call to the centre, they receive one counselling session, other supports and will be referred to other agencies that can help them.
Every effort is made to prioritise supports for victims who are experiencing an emotional crisis after a sexual assault.
Even if someone is on the waiting list and feels overwhelmed, they can still ring the centre for a crisis support session.
Ms Duffy said sometimes there is a delay when a person who has been subjected to a sexual assault or rape decides to come forward and seek support or make a complaint to the gardai.
For adult survivors of childhood abuse, she said sometimes they don’t decide to talk about it until later in their life.
She praised the establishment of the new Garda Protective Services Unit, which includes specially trained gardaí to deal with complaints dealing with rape and sexual assault.
She believes this unit has resulted in an increase in the reporting of these crimes.
Chief Superintendent Sean Colleran told the meeting that increases and decreases in domestic abuse or sexual assault can be interpreted in different ways, and sometimes this can be down to the fact people are now more comfortable about reporting these crimes to the gardaí.
Superintendent Colleran stressed it is very important that any person who has suffered any kind of abuse should not be afraid or embarrassed to contact the gardaí, which is part of a network of strong support agencies for victims.
The Garda chief said people who wanted to report a sexual assault would be dealt with in a confidential way and wouldn’t be interviewed in a garda station.
He said it is important for people who are subject to a sex assault to report it to gardaí as sometimes there can be a delay in reporting this crime to the authorities. He added gardaí will be keeping a close eye on this crime in the future.
The increase in sexual assault in Clare is in sharp contrast to the considerable reduction in the number of reported breaches of a barring order, safety order, protection order, which fell from 89 for the first eight months of 2020 to 60 for the same period this year, which was a percentage drop of 33%.
The number of domestic disputes where no offence was disclosed fell from 423 for the first eight months of 2020 to 308 for the same time frame in 2021, a percentage drop of 27%.
The number of rapes of a male or female remained unchanged at less than ten in the two years. Gardai don’t specify the precise number of reported rapes to protect the identity of victims.
Superintendent Colleran said the Clare figures for reported rapes were quite low when compared with national statistics.
Anyone who needs support can contact the Rape Crisis Mid-West Centre on 061 311511.
by Dan Danaher