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2004-03-09 Rape crisis centre focuses on needs of victims of sex abuse

In September 2002, I shared with you the very personal and harrowing story of Julie and her life of abuse and violence. Hers was indeed an extreme story, but now her life has happily turned around and her future is bright. As we know only too well in Sligo, there are people everywhere who have experienced sexual violence, and unfortunately the problem is more widespread than we think, or indeed we want to believe.

 

Sexual violence is totally unacceptable in all its forms, and its devestating long-term effects were what initially led to the establishment of the Rape Crisis Movement, and the many Rape Crisis Centres that have sprung up around the country. A publication entitled Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland (SAVI) was brought out by the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre in 2002 and contains many thought-provoking and often disturbing statistics. Only 6% of survivors of sexual violence in adulthood ever report it to the Gardaí and almost ¼ of the perpetrators are partners or ex-partners of the survivors. 42% of women interviewed had experienced some form of sexual abuse, and something which many people forget is that 28% of men interviewed had also admitted to being survivors.


 

The Sligo Rape Crisis Centre was established in 1995 in response to the rising awareness of sexual violence in the region, and the centre covers Sligo/Leitrim and West Cavan. There are also centres in Castlebar and Letterkenny. The Sligo branch has 3 paid staff and 6 volunteers, all trained counsellors, and is funded by the North Western Health Board, but it also depends hugely on fund-raising, as was demonstrated by the Model Arts Christmas Recitals. But sadly, many of the centres ambitions remain unfulfilled due to lack of money, and such vital plans as outreach projects and education in schools as to, for example, what a safe relationship is, have had to be put partly on hold.

The Sligo Rape Crisis Centres address was once the address of Nelsons Shop, and it is heartening to see our old premises being put to such a positive and life-changing use. What struck me most when I popped in to have a chat with Tina Horton was the warmth and welcoming nature of the centre and its several sweet-smelling counselling rooms. The last time I had been here was to bring a watch from the shop up to the jewellery workshops for repair. Tina spoke with her soft Lincoln lilt (with a definite hint of Sligo) and explained that this was a safe and confidential space where survivors of sexual violence such as child sexual abuse, rape and sexual assault are offered crisis counselling, ongoing counselling and support. Tina stressed that Talking helps, and that survivors are believed, and treated with respect, dignity and non-predjudice as they are being empowered through their sessions.


 

For Julie, and others, abuse had become the norm. Like Julie, survivors of abuse may feel self-blame, shame, humiliation, and can feel that they do not deserve to be loved or to feel happy. Survivors may need to learn trust and self-respect again. Response to abuse and violence can vary from numbness to extreme fear and disgust, and the survivor can suffer from flashbacks for years afterwards.

Tina also stressed that the blame lies solely with the perpetrator. The legal process can make it difficult for the survivors by discussing, for example, the survivors sexual history, as though it is the survivors behaviour which is on trial. Because of this, sadly, society is thus partly blaming the survivor, and this is why it is so important for the Rape Crisis Centres to continually raise awareness, to educate and to address the survivors needs and the causes of sexual violence. The number of callers to the Sligo Rape Crisis Centre has trebled in the last 4 years, and the centre is staffed from 9  6 by counsellors every workday. If you have to leave a message, a counsellor will ring you back as soon as possible. If you come for a personal appointment there will be no waiting time and everything is strictly confidential. Your counsellor will meet you at the door and make sure you meet no other clients or staff.


 

If you feel you would like to contact the Sligo Rape Crisis Centre around any issue, please contact 1800  750 780 free-phone helpline.

 

The Dublin Rape Crisis Centre: http://www.drcc.ie/