Rape Crisis Centre warns of dangers from online dating
Growing numbers of people are suffering sexual abuse carried out by people they met online.
The head of clinical services at the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, Angela McCarthy, said the organisation may start compiling statistics on this area in the future as it is a "theme" that it has encountered.
The centre published its annual report for 2015 yesterday.
Almost 12,000 people contacted its helpline last year.
Over half of the contacts were from those calling for the first time about rape or sexual abuse.
Speaking at the launch, Ms McCarthy said the centre had recognised sexual abuse from online dates as an issue in recent times.
"It is certainly a theme but not one we have data on yet, although we could start looking into it," she said.
Ms McCarthy added that although dating sites could have positive outcomes, there could often be a danger with meeting up with strangers.
"Some people meet their partners online but unfortunately others may meet predators on such sites."
The report revealed that just 23.8pc of adults who experienced rape or sexual assault did so at the hands of a stranger.
Out of those who reported abuse, 24.4pc had been raped or assaulted by a boyfriend or partner, while in almost 40pc of cases the attack was carried out by another known person.
The centre commended third-level institutions for the work they had done in the past year in raising awareness about the issue of sexual consent.
At the launch, rape survivor Bernie Adufe D'Arcy, from Wicklow, spoke of the help she received from the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre.
"Rape is the total destruction and invasion of a person by a person but with the right help the victim can become the victor over rape," she said.
"On arrival to the Rotunda Hospital (following the rape), I was met by a lady from the Rape Crisis Centre, which was a blessing.
"She was there for me and explained every procedure, every step. It was a long road that I strolled, but with the help of the Rape Crisis Centre I got here."
She added: "I don't call myself a victim of rape because I am now a victor."
In addition to the 24-hour national telephone line service (1800 778888), last year the centre provided face-to-face therapy to 499 people and accompanied victims of sexual violence to the Rotunda Sexual Assault Treatment Unit, as well as to court and Garda stations in the Dublin area.
In view of the centre's findings, its incoming CEO, Noeline Blackwell, has called for urgent enactment of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill 2015 when the Dáil resumes.
"The fact that about half of the counselling and therapeutic work of the centre is with adults who have suffered abuse as children makes our call for better protection for today's children more urgent," she said.
"The Sexual Offences Bill, tackling internet abuse - which is still not illegal in Ireland - will give today's children a much better chance of staying safe than they have right now."
Minister for Children and Youth Affairs Katherine Zappone said it was "absolutely a priority" for the Government to enact the legislation soon.
She said: "It is obviously deeply disturbing to hear of the rise in reporting. On the other hand, it is a good thing and it also represents the success of the work of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre and other centres around the country.
"I want to say how vital the work is that goes on here, especially for the many volunteers who provided the services to victims of rape and sexual abuse.
"The centre has made an enormous contribution. If it weren't for them, the taboo subject of rape would not be spoken about so openly."