First-time callers to Rape Crisis Centre up 23%

More than half of helpline calls relate to adult sexual violence

The Dublin Rape Crisis Centre received more than 9,000 counselling calls last year, with a 23 per cent increase in first-time callers.

The centre's annual report, described as "shocking" by chairperson Frances Gardiner, shows that more than half of all calls to its helpline related to adult sexual violence.

Genuine calls

Of some 9,150 “genuine counselling calls” received in 2012, just over 4,000 were first-time contacts - a 23 per cent increase over two years. Some 54 per cent related to adult sexual violence, including rape, sexual assault, sexual harassment and trafficking.

The overwhelming share of callers (96 per cent) were Irish, but in total people of 54 nationalities made contact with the centre.

Some 260 victims of rape and sexual assault were accompanied by the centre's volunteers to the sexual assault treatment unit at the Rotunda Hospital in Dublin.

Dr Gardiner said the report showed the range of its services and how it “valiantly strove” to fulfil its mandate in spite of shrinking resources. “Analysis of the figures confirms how unrelenting the sinister world of sexual crime is, traumatising men and women in its wake,” she said.

Figures for the centre’s counselling and psychotherapy services show that 557 people were seen for individual counselling last year - an increase of four per cent on 2011. Of these, 54 per cent were victims of childhood sexual abuse and 46 per cent were victims of adult rape, sexual assault or sexual harassment. Some 88 per cent were women.

Types of violence

According to the report, the predominant five types of violence disclosed to its counselling services were psychological abuse (31 per cent), physical abuse (22 per cent), harassment or intimidation (22 per cent), threat to kill (10 per cent) and attempt to kill (3 per cent).

"We've had 35 years of the Rape Crisis Movement in Ireland," said the centre's chief executive, Ellen O'Malley-Dunlop. "We're at a critical turning-point in relation to awareness and changes in what were very stereotypical entrenched attitudes towards rape and sexual abuse."

However, she added that notwithstanding that progress, there was a need to continue investing in the centre and in education so as “to ensure these changes are given the opportunity to be bedded down in our collective Irish psyche.”

Speaking at the event, Minister for Justice Alan Shatter said work on legislation to create a DNA database was virtually complete and that the project would be operational next year.

He said the database, which would “revolutionise” the detection and prevention of rape and sexual assault, would hold the DNA profiles of every person convicted of any offence that attracted a sentence of five years or more - a bracket that covers rape and most sexual offences.

People serving prison sentences when the legislation is enacted would also have their profiles added to the database.

“Rape and sexual assault are abhorrences that blight our country,” Mr Shatter said. “The gardaí do everything in their power to prevent these crimes and to detect them when they occur, and DNA has played an important role in solving many sex crimes. However, without a database, we cannot exploit the full potential of the technology.”

Referring to possible concerns over civil liberties, Mr Shatter said the legislation would conform to the highest human rights standards.

“When it comes to the balance to be struck between the infringement of human rights that the taking of a mouth swab from a convicted rapist represents with the gross violation of human rights that is rape, there is no contest in my view,” he said.

While commending the work of the Rape Crisis Centre, Mr Shatter remarked that there were 16 different organisations involved in similar work and suggested there could be more cohesion among them.

“I would simply raise the question as to whether the work being undertaken could be better coordinated or integrated so the use of resources is maximised to the benefit to the people you are on a daily basis providing assistance to,” he said.