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Reporting of sexual assault is only the ‘tip of the iceberg’

June 8th, 2022 11:45 AM

By Siobhan Cronin

Dr Crowley is the author of the report on sexual violence in West Cork.

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THE numbers of people reporting instances of sexual violence or abuse in West Cork are only the ‘tip of the iceberg’, the author of a major new report has said.

Researcher Dr Caroline Crowley made the comment at the launch of her extensive report this week, which also heard that Ireland has child sex offenders, aged from five to 12-years-old, in treatment programmes.

The report, commissioned by West Cork Women Against Violence (WCWAV), has revealed the extent of the issue, and the urgent need for support services in the region.

Analysis of data showed that three quarters of all respondents had their first experience of sexual violence in childhood. ‘I questioned my analysis when I saw that figure,’ Dr Crowley said but, regrettably, it was correct.

All respondents knew the perpetrator, who was also most likely to be a relative. The person they were most likely to tell was another child or teenager, and not a parent, she said. And in later life, their coping strategies included addiction and suicidal ideation.

From earlier research that is now 20-years-old, Dr Crowley has extrapolated that there are likely to be 9,000 people out of the 57,000 population of the West Cork municipal district, who have experienced sexual assault or rape.

Dr Crowley says this is a conservative figure, and from this, she has deduced that about 3,500 children in the district have been impacted by sexual assault, with 2,400 of these having directly experienced sexual assault.

However, the figures reporting to gardaí do not reflect the reality of the situation, she said, as there were 48 reports of sexual violence or assault in West Cork in 2019; 70 in 2020 and 105 in 2021.

She said it was reassuring the number was rising, as this indicated a greater awareness of the crime, and may also reflect the presence of the Protective Services Unit of specially trained gardaí, which was opened in Dunmanway in 2020.

‘Progress is being made, but it is very slow,’ said Dr Crowley, ‘and we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg.’

For the WCWAV report, Dr Crowley spoke to almost 30 survivors and their supporters at length about their experiences and what they believe would have made their experience less traumatic.

As a result, she has made four recommendations – the establishment of a West Cork-based support service; training for key professionals including gardaí, lawyers and Tusla staff; better sex education at school level, and community-based prevention and early intervention initiatives.

West Cork should have a goal of ‘zero tolerance’ for sexual violence, she told the large crowd gathered at the launch at the Celtic Ross Hotel in Rosscarbery on Tuesday.

‘If we are serious about supporting survivors and protecting children, we must do this together as a community, working in partnership, prepared to address the truth of the problem,’ Marie Mulholland, WCWAV ceo said.

 Margo Noonan, who works with the sexual assault unit in Cork city and runs an outreach clinic in Bantry, explained how schools had previously been reluctant to engage with sexual education programmes, but since the Ashling Murphy murder, she had been ‘inundated’ with enquiries.

‘Some parents say to me that it’s an embarrassing conversation to have with their child. But I tell them it’s better than having a conversation with them as a convicted sex offender, because they were too embarrassed to have that  conversation about sex.’

She also revealed that Ireland has Tusla programmes for young sex offenders, who range in age from five years old, to 12.

• For more on this topic, check out our In the News podcast.

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