Counsellors are 'Still Here' and finding positives in online support services.
Management at the Donegal Sexual Abuse and Rape Crisis Centre said they are expecting a flood of reports from victims of sexual violence after the Covid-19 lockdown.
The expected surge may come as people report both recent and historical incidents of sexual abuse, according to DSARCC centre Manager Marina Porter.
Ms Porter said the Donegal Centre has seen an increasing amount of crisis calls and new referrals in recent weeks during the Covid-19 isolation period. Counselling staff are currently working remotely from home, supporting clients over the phone or online by new and secure means.
“Unfortunately now because of the lockdown, in a world full of anxiety, if somebody has their own anxiety and other issues, the isolation has given them a lot of time and memories are surfacing, they are having flashbacks, even new memories arising. We are getting an increasing amount of crisis calls and new referrals,” Porter said.
Counsellors are now making preparations for a “surge” in crisis calls and reports to gardaí when the lockdown is lifted.
Porter said: “I think when this is over, there will probably be a flood of reports. I would imagine it is difficult for someone to report an abusive situation at the moment. From talking to other managers in the Rape Crisis Network, the phone lines were quiet the first couple of weeks of Covid-19 and now it’s picking up. We are all awaiting a surge.
“We are trying to make sure we have resources in place to meet that.”
The centre received five new client calls last week from people deciding to seek support at this time.
The door of the outreach spaces may be physically closed, but services are strengthening through online media. This has been a surprisingly positive outcome for the group.
“The uptake in online support is really good, surprisingly some clients who have social anxiety say this is really working for them. A lot of people are engaging really well and enjoying it, which we didn’t foresee.
“Out of adversity comes opportunity. It’s given us an opportunity to widen our message of reaching people,” Porter said.
The DSARCC has its main outreach in Letterkenny, with other outreach spaces in Donegal Town, Buncrana, Lifford, Killybegs. A second outreach for Inishowen was due to open in Moville before the Covid-19 crisis.
The lockdown, however, has shown support workers that they can continue services through safe technological means to reach people who cannot travel.
“We are literally still here to support people. We also support the supporters,” Porter said.
DSARCC offers one-to-one support and counselling to survivors of all forms of rape and sexual abuse, aged 14 and up and of all gender identities. Trained volunteers also support people at the Sexual Assault Treatment Unit, GPs, Gardaí, Hospital and through court proceedings. Family members of people whose lives have been affected by sexual abuse and rape call also seek support for advice on how to deal with things and to gain reassurance.
Porter explains that the centre has a “revolving door” to allow people to reach out to them and return again anytime they need to.
Calls for support can arise from recent and historical incidents of abuse.
Porter said: “Sometimes in the immediate aftermath of sexual violence people just aren’t ready to go for counselling, because they can’t come to terms with what has happened.
“People need to see if they can cope themselves or not. It takes a while to decide – ‘Am I going to come for counselling or not’. They come when they are ready and our door is a revolving door. If they ever need to come back, they can always come back.”
If a person is in danger, gardaí should be the first port of call for immediate assistance.
“Call 999 if you’re in danger, or your local Garda Station. Please remember the 5km rule does not apply to you if you are at risk of Domestic or Sexual Violence.”
Sexual violence can also be a part of domestic violence, and DSARCC works closely with the Donegal Women’s Domestic Violence Service to refer victims to the necessary supports.
The Centre has also produced an online self-help resource pack to support survivors of rape and sexual abuse in the north west during Covid-19.
Click here to Download the self-help pack on Dropbox or email firstname.lastname@example.org for a copy.
Donegal Sexual Abuse & Rape Crisis Centre Telephone Helpline:
T: 074 91 28211 – 10am – 4pm – Monday – Friday
Freephone: 1800 44 88 44
E: email@example.com for appointments or
Donegal Sexual Assault Treatment Unit (SATU) – 087 068 1964
National 24hr Helpline: 1800 77 88 88
The Donegal Domestic Violence Service helpline number is 1800 262 677. This is also a 24/7 helpline.
Anyone who is a victim of the crime of Domestic Abuse or Sexual Violence should contact their local Garda District Headquarters or in an emergency call 999/112.
The District headquarters numbers are as follows:
Letterkenny – 074 9167100
Buncrana – 074 9320540
Milford – 074 9153060
Ballyshannon 071 9858530