Crisis appointments at rape crisis centre tripled after first lockdown

Unprecedented levels of stress seen among survivors of sexual violence amid pandemic

Noeline Blackwell, chief executive of DRCC, says the pandemic had a ‘very damaging’ effect on the survivors of sexual violence. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Noeline Blackwell, chief executive of DRCC, says the pandemic had a ‘very damaging’ effect on the survivors of sexual violence. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

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Crisis appointments at the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre (DRCC) for victims and survivors of sexual violence tripled in the summer of 2020 as Covid-19 restrictions were eased, a new report says.

There was a sharp increase in requests for the support service during the pandemic as the demand for “assessment” appointments for those who suffered rape or sexual assault in the more distant past increased by 30 per cent in July and August 2020 after the first Covid-19 lockdown was lifted.

The centre’s 2020 annual report, published on Tuesday, says the number of appointments offered to survivors of sexual violence was higher last year than the previous year as clients sought “greater support in the new, more anxious times we faced”.

Out of 7,375 appointments offered to clients, some 6,010 were delivered – an increase on 2019 when 4,619 appointments were delivered.

Speaking on the publication of the report, Noeline Blackwell, chief executive of DRCC, said while the pandemic had an impact on the entire society, it had a “very damaging” effect on the survivors of sexual violence in particular, “isolating them from usual coping resources and intensifying their anxiety”.

“Our counsellors and therapists have never seen such levels of stress and anxiety. Our callers and clients needed much more support to heal or even stay where they were,” she said.

There were 13,438 contacts to the DRCC’s national 24-hour helpline in 2020, down from 14,159, with 6,451 first-time contacts and 5,349 repeat contacts.

Appointments

The take-up rate for appointments was 81 per cent in 2020 – up from 78 per cent in 2019 – which, the centre said, was “one of the few positive outcomes of the pandemic”.

The DRCC saw 570 clients during 2020, down from 617 in 2019. Of these, 268 were first-time clients and 302 were existing clients. The overwhelming majority – 92.5 per cent – were women.

Some 61.5 per cent of clients disclosed sexual violence experienced as an adult and 38.5 per cent had been abused as children.

Just 36 per cent of new clients had reported the crimes to Gardaí.

Minister of State for Education Josepha Madigan said the pandemic had shown how the nature of domestic, sexual and gender-based violent crimes had “changed and become more prevalent in some cases as restrictions have constrained the work of agencies and survivor groups”.

The pandemic interrupted some of the DRCC’s work, resulting in the short-term pausing of the Department of Justice’s No Excuses campaign in 2020, the suspension of a sexual violence survey of survivors by the Central Statistics Office and the cancellation of fundraising events.

Even before Covid-19, State funding does not meet the full cost of DRCC’s frontline services and it must raise more than €1 million each year to meet its costs, traditionally from fundraising.