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Support group gets 14 referrals a day after Belfast trial

A support organisation for victims of sexual violence saw 14 new referrals a day after the Belfast rugby rape trial.

The waiting list for specialist Nexus NI counselling has swollen from 300 to more than 700, statistics showed.

The charity provides advice and help and chief executive Cara Cash said increased public investment in services was urgently needed.

“The reality for us day-to-day is that we are busier than ever before. I have been with Nexus for two years as chief executive.

“When we arrived we had a waiting list of about 300-400 people and we are now looking in excess of 700 and that is only for the specialist counselling services.

Ireland and Ulster rugby stars Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding were cleared of rape following a nine-week trial

“In the wake of the trial, the day that the verdict was given, for about two and a half weeks after we saw 14 new referrals per day.”

Victims can be aged from eight to their 70s, and on average a fifth are male.

Ireland and Ulster rugby stars Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding were cleared of rape following a nine-week trial which attracted enormous publicity and public comment.

Ms Cash said there had been a surge in sexual violence reporting as victims identified it with their own experiences but warned some of the coverage had been difficult for those affected because of the level of detail.

She is part of an expert advisory panel helping retired Appeal Court judge Sir John Gillen conduct a speedy and robust review of how the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland deals with serious sexual offence cases.

Ms Cash said people were waiting from a fortnight to four months for Nexus appointments depending on their availability.

“So we know that another outcome of this (rape trial) is going to be an increased interest in our organisation.

“Where we have a difficulty is that our funding is stagnant, so we are talking to senior civil servants within the Department of Health about how much demand has increased; what we need now is reciprocal increased investment in our service.

“It is not good enough to say to victims come forward, seek help, seek support, and then not have the service you are telling them is there for them.

“That is a challenge for us as an organisation but we are determined to rise to it and we don’t want that to put people off.”

- PA