Eighteen children attended the childen’s sexual assault treatment service in the city in the first three months of this year.
Cllr Catherine Connolly, a former vice chairperson of the HSE West’s regional health forum and a long time advocate for a sexual assault treatment unit in Galway, has described the figures as “truly alarming”.
The 24-hour service - the first of its kind in the west - is run by the HSE, now as part of an integrated child, adolescent and adult service located on the Tuam Road. The contract was signed on Friday last.
Previously, the children’s service was operated on an “ad hoc” basis from a different premises, explains the city councillor.
Welcoming the fact that the service is now on a “more formal” footing Cllr Connolly says it is sending out a “very strong”message that sexual abuse and assault is being taken seriously.
“I very much welcome the progress in the provision of services for children who have been sexually assaulted. The children’s service is in addition to the existing service for adults and is co-located on the same site on the Tuam Road. It is something I have campaigned for since becoming a member of the Health Forum West in 2006.
“A medical rota system has now been put in place to allow for 24 hour cover together with the necessary equipment. The dedicated unit will also allow for essential and specialised training.”
She says the provision of the integrated centre is welcome news in a time when sexual abuse and assault is “unfortunately prevalent” and in the wake of the Ryan and Murphy reports and the more recent Roscommon Enquiry.
She says a specialised unit which treats children and adults is an “absolute necessity”.
“In the first three months of this year 18 children were referred for examination in Galway - a figure which is truly alarming. The Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland Study carried out in 2002 - an internationally recognised piece of research - consulted over 3,000 randomly selected Irish adults. It found that 42 per cent of women and 28 per cent of men experienced some form of sexual abuse or assault in their lives.
“Particularly significant also was their finding that sexual violence in Ireland still remained one of the most under-reported and under-recorded of violent crimes.”
Cllr Connolly says the new integrated sexual assault treatment centre is giving recognition to the fact that sexual assault is a serious problem.
“The HSE has set up a unit which will have doctors and nurses with expertise. The team will be on duty 24 hours a day to deal with victims of sexual assault professionally.
“A very strong message will come out [from this service] that we’re taking sexual abuse seriously.”
She said the next step is to have the amalgamated services located in a building owned by the HSE West, preferably on or near Merlin Park Hospital. It is currently located in temporary premises due to budgetary constraints.