Headline figures from the Garda Commissioner's Crime Report for 2001, recently released by the Department of Justice show an increase of 83% in reported cases of sexual offences.
We welcome the fact that a more favourable environment has now been created where victims can come forward and report such incidents and receive the support and understanding that they deserve.
But, we are also aware from our work in the centre and research findings that there are many victims who cannot come forward.
As a society we have much work to do to encourage all victims of sexual violence to be able to come forward, we also have a long way to go in preventing sexual violence.
To end sexual violence we must invest in prevention education programmes. Directing sexual assault prevention/awareness programmes towards our young people is especially critical, since young people make up a big percentage of victims.
In response to an identified need for such an awareness programme, two counsellors in the Centre designed and developed the SAYIT programme (Safety Awareness Youth Information Training). The programme was devised to provide a safe and supportive environment for young people to explore and discuss sexual violence. It aims to raise awareness and provide information.
The SAYIT programme is available to all Youth Groups and Senior Cycle students in the Kerry region. It consists of four eighty-minute modules, provides information on the centre as well as case studies, role-plays, discussions and questionnaires on sexual abuse, harassment and rape. There are lectures and workshop sessions. Two experienced and highly qualified staff delivers the programme.
Prevention /awareness education provides the most effective method by which to change attitudes and, ultimately change behaviours that will stop sexual violence from happening.
The incidence of Drug Assisted Rape is a growing concern. A recent Prime Time programme highlighted this and the need for greater public awareness of the issue.
We believe that while there are any number of drugs that can be used, the oldest drug is alcohol. A survey of 1,400 students carried out in twenty -eight second level schools in Kerry by Mental Health Ireland, found that over a fifth (21%) of students were concerned that they themselves may have a problem with alcohol.
Alcohol, which is given very, little media attention in connection with rape and sexual assault has the potential to be as dangerous as any other drug.
A recent Awareness campaign launched by the Department of Justice aims to highlight the dangers that exist in relation to drug rape and also to make all members of society, particularly young people aware of measures that they can take to safeguard themselves without effecting their enjoyment of a night out.
Many victims of sexual violence don't come forward as they may feel guilty if they have been drinking, it is important to know that the assault is not your fault. Victims may feel that they did not do enough to prevent the attack. The first instinct for many of us in a traumatic situation is to "freeze". Sometimes, this makes victims feel that they cannot report.
The recovery period for victims is shorter the earlier they come forward. Burying the problem only makes it worse, and it can come up at any stage in their life.
Survivors are never to blame, regardless of the circumstances. The perpetrator is entirely responsible for their own behaviour.
Go out with a few friends and stay together
Make sure that your drink is never left unattended
Be aware that alcohol does affect your actions and reactions, as well as your ability to be alert
Get away from situations that you do not feel comfortable with
Never accept a drink from anyone that you do not feel comfortable with
When having a night out, make prior arrangements for your transport home
If you're not comfortable with what's going on, or have any concern about your safety - Do something about it - Tell your friends and agree what to do
You cannot be expected to remember a long list of prevention advice every time you go out - Just Be Aware.
TAKE CARE AND HAVE A GOOD TIME!
Effects of Sexual Violence:
Sexual violence is one of the most devastating of human experiences. The terror, helplessness, humiliation and pain involved result in distress that can have an impact on the victim's life. The effects will vary from person to person, because we all have different ways of dealing with a crisis. These crimes are often cloaked in a shroud of secrecy and the problems they create are rarely acknowledged however, certain common patterns emerge.
Shock and withdrawal, the victim may be unable to speak about the experience
Panic and confusion, the victim may be very distraught and show signs of extreme fear
A tendency to dwell on the details of the assault
Recurrent and intrusive flashbacks
Sleeplessness and nightmares
Hypervigilance- a tendency to startle easily
Inappropriately calm and rational - behaving as if nothing happened
Obsessive washing - the victim may feel dirty and tainted
Physical trauma - bruising, cuts or soreness.
Help is available in coping with the effects.
The victim or any concerned person can contact the Kerry Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre, where qualified professional counsellors are available. The Centre is situated in 11 Denny Street, Tralee and the opening hours are from Monday - Friday 9am to 5pm. We can be contacted by freephone on 1800-633333. The centre also provides an outreach counselling service to areas outside of Tralee.
"It's possible to thrive, not just survive"
While we can be proud of our successes to date, there is more than enough work for all who wish to participate in the continuing struggle to end sexual violence.
In order to prevent sexual violence we must all get involved, individually and collectively we can break the silence, and make it no longer a taboo subject or something shameful that weighs down the victims.
Vera O'Leary (S.R.N, S.C.M, M.I.A.C.P,) is the Director of the Kerry Rape & Sexual Abuse Centre and has been a Counsellor there for the last 10 years