AN 80-year old rape victim was among more than 100 patients availing of the South Infirmary’s Sexual Assault Treatment Unit last year.
Up to early December 2020, head of the department, Margo Noonan and her team had treated 106 sexual assault victims.
Despite a broad patient demographic, Ms Noonan said the myth of a typical sexual assault victim is still an issue. She added that both male and female sexual assault survivors presented at the department last year across varying age groups.
The oldest rape victim to avail of the service in the last two years was 87-years-old. More recently, an eighty-year-old patient was among those treated at the facility. She stressed that most of the time rape victims are known to their attackers. Older victims, Ms Noonan added, are no different.
“Whether it’s a family member or a carer, there is usually a connection. A lot of the time it will be somebody coming into the household. In cases where the victim has been assaulted by another dementia patient, who are they going to prosecute?
“We have seen a few patients with dementia,” she said. “The decision around whether we should carry out an exam in these situations is a difficult one to call.
“This is not as simple as a 50-year-old who has been assaulted. The most important factor here is safeguarding.
“When you have an 80-year-old dementia patient and you have to make a decision to do a forensic exam you have to think outside the box. This has to be considered from every perspective because there are so many different angles. The last thing you want to do is distress the person.”
A surge in domestic violence is placing added pressure on the unit.
“Domestic violence has really upped the ante during the pandemic. We saw a lot of older people who were being abused by their partners. The type of rapes the public typically hear about involves women in their twenties who are pulled down an alleyway after a night out.
“The different types of victims out there aren’t being portrayed enough. Their stories aren’t being told. Our age profile has changed. There are men and women in their 60s and 70s coming to us. People ended up in risky situations because they were so lonely.
“What rape was like for one person might be completely different for someone else. Just because you don’t fit the media profile of what a rape looks like doesn’t mean it’s not serious.
“This has nothing to do with Covid. People choose to hurt others. There are things I’ve seen...that I never want to see again for as long as I live.”
Ms Noonan said that sexual assault victims as young as 14 face another set of challenges, with some afraid to come forward as they were at parties, but said that October 2020 was busier than 2019.
She also appealed for a stop to what she describes as “victim-blaming.”
“We’re very good in this country for victim-blaming when it comes to sexual crimes.
“Before questions were thrown around like ‘why did you get yourself raped?’ Now, there are additional comments like ‘you were stupid enough to go to a party during a pandemic’ and ‘what did you expect?’”
The team often has to travel depending on the victim’s location.
“We travel everywhere from emergency rooms to prisons. The sooner you get help, the better the outcome long term. The effects of an assault are not just physical, they are legal psychological, financial — they are everything.”
Changes have been made to the facility in recent years based on feedback from patients.
“When patients were returning they were coming back into the same room for an STI follow-up as they did for a forensic exam which was so traumatic. We might spend an hour with someone who was crying at the door saying they couldn’t go in there. We have two separate rooms now. We have a forensic room they only have to go to once and a different room that’s like an ordinary GP surgery for their follow up. People can tell us anything. We always say that nobody has to be afraid of upsetting us because we’re not their girlfriend or their mum.
“When people come to us they have a safe place.”
To find out more about the unit visit the HSE's website