Rape centres struggle to cope with big rise in young teens seeking help
Rape Crisis Centres have warned the number of young teenagers seeking counselling has risen dramatically in the past year.
Sixteen centres across Ireland, as well as outreach centres, provide counselling and therapy to victims of sexual assaults and rapes.
In recent years, the centres - which are primarily funded by Tusla, the Child and Family Agency - have been running at full capacity.
The Dublin Rape Crisis centre alone has a waiting list of 175 adult and adolescent victims seeking counselling.
A worrying trend has begun to emerge, however, as counsellors notice a significant rise in the number of young people, some as young as 12 years old, reaching out.
In Wexford, the local Rape Crisis Centre has attributed the increase to social media as well as children speaking to strangers online.
"Social media has had a huge impact and we see the amount of young people coming in and being groomed online," centre director Claire Williams said.
"Teenagers or young adolescents are being groomed online, which then turns out to be disastrous when they decide to meet up.
"Other young people are having encounters with their peers that was non consensual and it has traumatised the young person."
Wexford Rape Crisis Centre currently has one counsellor allocated for young adolescent therapies, but as more teenagers reach out pressure is mounting for more funding.
"We have five appointments a week for young people and those are full, and then we have six or seven on a waiting list," Ms Williams said.
"One of our major strategic priorities is to expand that adolescent counselling service because five slots a week is not enough."
Other centres, including the Kerry Rape Crisis Centre and the Carlow South Leinster Rape Crisis Centre, have also experienced a similar influx of young people.
A spokesperson for Tusla said it was aware of the need for additional resources to be provided to combat the rise in numbers of young people presenting at centres.
"The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs has prioritised the establishment of regional centres for supporting children who have suffered sexual abuse in a way that would minimise their trauma while accessing care or health services," they said.