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Over 13,000 calls to rape crisis centres in 2020 as waiting lists grow and centres face ‘emergency situation’

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Rape crisis centres were inundated with calls from people affected by sexual violence in 2020, with more than 13,000 calls made to centres last year.

There has been an “exponential increase” in the number of people accessing rape crisis services, the Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RCNI) said in its 2020 report released today, as hundreds of people affected by sexual violence are currently on RCNI waiting lists.

This means a survivor of sexual violence may be waiting over a year to see a counsellor, the report states.

Nine out of 10 people contacting the helplines (91pc) in 2020 were women or girls, and 9pc were men and boys. Almost 1,600 people contacted a rape crisis helpline in March 2020, the most in any month as the service switched to remote working due to the pandemic.

The RCNI has called on the Irish Government to “do more to respond adequately to the needs of victims of sexual violence”. One in three women and one in four men will be victims of sexual violence in their lifetime.

The number of people who accessed counselling in the centres in 2020 stood at 1,241, 90pc of them women, while centres provided appointments for 15,194 people, up 3,000 on 2019.

Regional rape crisis centres are facing an “emergency situation in which chronic underfunding is leading to an inability to train, recruit and retain counsellors”, resulting in long waiting lists for survivors in urgent need of support, the report has found.

Local helplines, which rely solely on fundraising, are frequently being used by survivors to “replace or supplement a planned programme of counselling” and these “essential services” are dependent on funding that is “uncertain, inadequate and unstable”, the RCNI said.

“In addition to having to ask survivors to put their trauma on hold for over a year, we do not have the resources to train new counsellors or to recruit and sustain new staff so our ageing sector is losing valuable expertise,” the report said.

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RCNI National Data Coordinator Elaine Mears said there had been a 22pc increase in helpline usage in 2020, with 13,068 people contacting these services.

“Most tellingly, [there’s been] a 71pc increase in time spent on helpline calls. Furthermore, the intensity and length of the calls indicate that, rather than seeking information and referrals, the helplines are being used to access counselling by people carrying a high level of trauma,” she said.

“Year-on-year our centres have seen increases in demand: in the last 10 years we have seen a 100pc increase in contacts to helplines, a 63pc increase in appointments provided by rape crisis centres (RCCs), and a 30pc increase in the number of survivors and supporters attending RCCs.

"These figures indicate that when seeking help people want their first point of contact to be local and that regional services provide an indispensable and integral service to their communities.”

RCNI executive director Dr Cliona Sadlier said rape crisis services are consistently expected to deliver supports at lower costs and, “after a decade of austerity, by 2019 we were still struggling to reach 2008 levels of funding”.

“We now call on the Government to commit to a programme of multi-annual funding so that rape crisis centres can bolster their essential helpline services, can train more specialised counsellors to reduce waiting lists and can offer survivors the help and support that they need and that they deserve,” Dr Sadlier said.

The report also highlights the experiences of sexual violence suffered by survivors and sets out how rape crisis centres had to adapt during the pandemic.

The average survivor of sexual violence before the age of 13 takes 33 years to tell someone of their trauma, it says.

More people texted the helplines last year than called them for the first year last year, with 52pc of contacts arising from texts.





 


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