Rape crisis support...

Rape undoubtedly remains one of the most heinous criminal acts that can be perpetrated against a person. The fact that it remains one of the most under-reported crimes in today's society makes it difficult to determine exactly how many people have been directly affected by it. However according to a recent report on sexual abuse and violence in Ireland, 10% of women and 3% of men have been raped.

The SAVI (Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland) Report also found that altogether, 42% of women and 28% of men have suffered some form of sexual abuse or assault in their lifetime.

Definition of rape

Rape is defined as unlawful sexual intercourse with a woman or man, who at the time of intercourse did not consent to it, where the rapist knows that the victim does not consent and is reckless as to whether the victim consents or not. Sexual assault occurs if a person is forced to participate in a sexual act without his/her consent. (It may include rape or other forms of sexual assault.)

According to the Rape Crisis Network, which runs rape crisis centres throughout the country, rape is a violent act of aggression. It is a lust for power rather than a lust for sexual enjoyment. "Rape and/or sexual assault is an act of violence. It is an invasion of the individual's physical and personal integrity. Careful clinical studies show that rape serves primarily non-sexual needs", the network explained.

The Rape Crisis Network provides an essential service to victims of rape and sexual assault (as well as child sexual abuse). From accompanying victims to the Gardai, to simply being on the other end of the phone should a person need to talk, the service is at the least, a help, at the most, a life saver.

However despite the immense work carried out by the network, many centres around the country face an ongoing battle just to stay open. In April of 2002, the Galway Rape Crisis Centre (GRCC) warned that it would have to close within weeks if it did not receive more funding. The centre, which conducts over 50 appointments for rape, sexual assault and abuse victims every week, needed to raise €70,000. Its funding from the Western Health Board, which covers around 60% of running costs, has not increased in three years.

Speaking to irishhealth.com, the centre's co-ordinator Agnes Warren, explained that the only way the centre has stayed open is through fundraising. "We have a shortfall every month and we are only open now because of fundraising. People have been amazing in coming up with ideas to raise money and these funds should keep us going until the end of the summer", Ms Warren said.

"We are due money from the Western Regional Planning Committee in September and that will see us through to the end of the year. Then we have to start applying again in the new year for funds from both the committee and the health board. It is a constant battle", she added.

Funding problems

This situation unfortunately is not unique, according to Ingrid Wallace, spokesperson for the Rape Crisis Network. "Like all voluntary organisations, funding is an ongoing issue for many rape crisis centres around the country", she told irishhealth.com.

If a person has been raped, the first thing that the network advises is to seek medical attention. This can be highly distressing, as a physical examination will be involved. However it is essential for the victim's health that this help is sought, as a sexually transmitted disease may have been passed on. Female victims may also have to take the morning after pill.

At all times, the person can be accompanied by someone; whether that is a friend, relative or volunteer from a rape crisis centre. If the victim wishes to report the rape to the Gardai, medical forensic evidence will be gathered to support the case. Where possible, this will take place in a specialist unit, such as the Sexual Assault Treatment Unit in Dublin's Rotunda Hospital.

Again the victim can be accompanied by somebody. For example in Dublin, the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre (DRCC) can provide a trained counsellor to meet and provide support for the victim at the treatment unit in the Rotunda. During 2001, 158 victims were helped by this service. However is this the path usually taken by victims? It would appear not, as the SAVI Report described the reporting of sexual crimes to the Gardai as 'strikingly low'.

Low level of reporting

The Dublin Rape Crisis Centre estimates that the only around 31% of offences are reported to the Gardai. "All rape is very unreported, not just male rape as many people believe", Ms Wallace said. Apart from the trauma associated with reporting the crime to the authorities, a major cause for concern is the fact that many rape victims choose not to disclose their ordeal to anyone.

According to the SAVI Report, almost half of those who disclosed experiences of sexual violence in the study, said that they had never previously disclosed that abuse to others. "You cannot generalise on when people will come forward for help if at all. Some people seek help in the immediate aftermath, some come in a day later, a week later or years later", Ms Wallace said.

For those who do choose to report the sexual offence to the Gardai, there are a number of things to expect. The victim will be interviewed to find out what exactly happened. Usually he/she will be given the option of being interviewed by a female police officer. Questions will include:

  • The identity of the assailant, if he/she is known to the victim.
  • Where the incident happened.
  • Precise details of what happened.

The victim must then sign the statement they have given. He/she can add to the statement at a later date if further details are remembered and he/she is entitled to a copy of the statement as soon as possible. A medical examination will now take place, if it has not already been carried out. Again the victim can be accompanied throughout.

Investigation

The crime will remain under investigation, however if the alleged assailant is known to the victim, that person will also be interviewed by Gardai. A Book of Evidence will then be prepared. This comprises of the victim's statement, the accused's statement and any forensic evidence collected at the medical examination. This is then sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions, who decides if there is sufficient evidence to proceed to court with the case.

A victim may wait for some time before approaching Gardai, which will make the case more difficult to prove. Reporting a rape, or indeed just seeking help, can be an extremely difficult decision for all victims to make. For some however, the ordeal is surrounded by a worryingly high level of taboo.

Marital rape for example has only been recognised as a crime in the last few years in Ireland. This is despite the fact that figures from the DRCC for the period 1999-2000, show that almost 10% of clients reported being raped by their spouse. One of the most enduring myths about rape is that it can only happen to women. The Dublin centre estimates that around 15% of its clients who are seeking counselling for rape are male, however according to the centre, this probably 'dramatically under-represents the incidence of rape among males'.

Indeed the first dedicated counselling service for male victims of rape, sexual abuse and incest in Ireland, only opened last year in Galway.

"For many males the violation experienced in rape and sexual assault may appear to undermine their identity as a male because they believe that society respects males only in roles of strength and power and that as a victim of sexual crime, they will be despised rejected to pitied", the Rape Crisis Network explained.

As more victims come forward, both male and female, the need for the services provided by the Rape Crisis Network cannot be underestimated. The DRCC alone saw almost 750 clients last year and received around 10,000 calls to its helpline. The closing down of any rape crisis centre due to a lack of funding would be a travesty, both for the victims of rape and for society as a whole.

  • The Dublin Rape Crisis Centre freephone number is 1800 77 88 88 and it can assist you with a number for a more local centre if necessary.

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