Friday 23 March 2018

Quarter of sex assault victims aged under 18

Anita Guidera

HEALTH Minister Mary Harney yesterday told of her shock that a 13-year-old child and an 80-year-old woman were among those treated for sexual assault last year.

The first annual report of the Sexual Assault Treatment Unit (SATU) found that over one in four of those seen were under the age of 18, while 12 victims were aged just 14 or under.

But the minister warned that the 529 sexual assault victims treated were just "the tip of the iceberg".

"It is shocking to think that somebody as young as 13 would be the victim of sexual assault or rape and that somebody as old as 80 would have a similar experience.

"We want to see as many people as possible coming forward. We know that as low as 10pc of those who have experienced rape or sexual assault actually come forward for services and that is very low by international standards," she said.


The report -- compiled by the six specialist units across the country -- also revealed that more than half of all those who report sexual assault had consumed upwards of four units of alcohol in the 12 hours prior to the incident.

It further highlighted the disturbing fact that 59 of those patients, or one in 10, who showed up for treatment, were unsure if a sexual assault had occurred.

Speaking at the launch in Letterkenny General Hospital, SATU Medical Director Dr Maeve Eogan said this was as a result of memory loss related to the amount of alcohol consumed.

"We present these figures not at all to apportion blame. A patient is by no way culpable for a sexual assault having been visited upon her but it is really very, very important to highlight this link which is consistently seen in national and international statistics," she said.

She added that while 88pc of their patients reported the incident to gardai, many people were unaware that they could present for treatment if they did not want to engage with the criminal justice system.

Last year was the first year all six SATU units -- in Dublin, Cork, Waterford, Mullingar, Galway and Letterkenny -- were fully operational with the service now provided within three hours' travel distance of anywhere in the country.

Of the 529 attendances, the vast majority of victims were female but 29 men also presented for treatment. Most of the assaults took place between 9pm and 9am.

Ms Harney stressed that the next priority would be to add to the eight forensically-trained nurses who work in the units.

"No doubt there will be more in the future but first we need to develop fully the six units we have to the appropriate level of staffing and service before we can consider opening more.

"It is estimated that in our lifetime, 42pc of women, and 28pc of men, according to the evidence, will experience sexual assault. It seems like an incredible statistic but that is what the evidence suggests," she said.

Irish Independent

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