Monday 21 October 2019

Woman had to endure an 11-hour wait for sexual assault unit

Noeline Blackwell of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre. Photo: Tony Gavin
Noeline Blackwell of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre. Photo: Tony Gavin
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

Short-staffed sexual assault units led to 50 victims having to endure a gruelling journey to be treated and forensically examined last year.

One woman endured an 11-hour wait as she had to travel in an unmarked Garda car to the Mullingar unit because the Dublin centre in the Rotunda Hospital, Dublin, was closed, a review report revealed.

"I went to the station at 4am and didn't get seen until 3pm in Mullingar. They said there were two other cases in Mullingar before my case," the woman said.

Patients who cannot access the service locally can endure several hours' journey. They may not be able to shower, eat or drink after their ordeal because it can destroy evidence.

They can then spend three to five hours being treated and examined.

The harrowing accounts emerged in a Department of Health review of the six sexual assault treatment units published by Health Minister Simon Harris yesterday.

The extended journey had a "direct impact" on the level of trauma endured by patients and particularly affects those who have not been referred by gardaí.


Mr Harris said an investment of €500,000 and the appointment of more nurses and doctors who are trained in forensic examination would be made. They include 'first responder' examiners who can travel to units.

The report found the units located in Dublin, Galway, Mullingar, Cork, Letterkenny and Waterford treated nearly 1,000 patients last year.

Noeline Blackwell, head of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, said the added travel it can lead to more unnecessary hurt and stress.

"They are already deeply upset," she pointed out.

Rape victim Dominique Meehan from Donegal, who had to travel from Dublin to Mullingar nearly four years ago, welcomed the extra staff and but also called for more centres around the country.

Some former patients interviewed for the report spoke of feeling safe in the unit and another said they could not fault it.

But others found the surrounds cold, clinical and unwelcome. Another said they were left on their own with nobody checking on them.

Current and former staff who were interviewed complained about pay and allowances as well as being unsupported in the work or feeling like the "poor relation of the hospital".

There has been serious under-investment in the "Cinderella" service.

A small number of staff carry the weight of the out of hours delivery.

One in 10 of the patients are men and half are under 25 years of age.

Many come from prisons, residential care homes and nursing homes. Others were in direction provision or homeless.

Assaults happen during university freshers' week, leaving cert results night, music festivals, conferences and gigs.

Others report an attack happening at home or within a family.

There can be a "spike" in cases in university freshers' week and during other festivals.

Mr Harris said there appears to be a "spike" in assault cases in freshers' week, and during other festivals and occasions such as Leaving Cert results night. This was echoed by Junior Education Minister Mary Mitchell O'Connor.

Irish Independent

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