By Niamh Casey
*Trigger Warning- This piece discusses sexual harassment, assault/abuse and violence.*
The conversation surrounding sexual harassment and violence against women has been steadily gaining traction since the beginning of lockdown last year. Headlines in relation to some form of brutality against women has gradually become a weekly occurrence and it is finally starting to be recognised as a serious issue. Over the past few weeks, the topic has been the subject of much attention due to the recent study by UN Women UK, where they released figures saying that 97% of women, aged between 18 and 24 years-old, relay that they have been sexually harassed. A further 96% say they did not report it as they did not think anything would come from doing so. The report was released just a week after the murder of Sarah Everand, a story that resonated with so many women all over the world. It is no wonder that the two news reports became intertwined, leading to a worldwide call to move towards bringing an end to sexual violence once and for all.
The recent media attention is being used to bring awareness to the broad range of services and supports that are available for those affected by crimes of sexual violence or harassment. The most recognised support service available in the Galway area is the Galway Rape Crisis Centre (GRCC).
Founded in 1984 the centre was set up by a group of women who were concerned about the lack of services for survivors of sexual abuse. By 2001 the centre had expanded its services to include male survivors. Since then, it has grown to become the largest rape crisis centre outside Dublin, with outreach branches in Ballinasloe, Gort, Oughterard and Tuam. The Students’ Union at NUI Galway has worked with the Galway Rape Crisis Centre in the past and continues to do so, with the centre being one of the selected charities that benefit from its fundraising events. The union, in partnership with the GRCC, regularly offers students the chance to attend consent workshops as well as disclosure training, where attendees examine attitudes, values and beliefs surrounding sexual violence and practice scenarios involving a disclosure of sexual violence.
These are just the services offered through the college, but there are many more that the centre provides. Susan Costello, Fundraising & Communications Manager for the Galway Rape Crisis Centre said, “The biggest part of our service is the provision of counselling and therapy for survivors of sexual violence and abuse.”
The GRCC offers confidential one-on-one counselling for survivors as well as their supporters, or anyone else affected by sexual violence and harassment. “The first contact a survivor will make with us is generally through our telephone helpline [1800 355 355]. When survivors contact GRCC they are offered an initial support and assessment meeting. During this first meeting, the client’s current situation is assessed, they are informed about what means of support is available to them including from our service”.
The centre also offers an adolescent clinic specifically for people under the age of 24; “The Adolescent Clinic provides a different support model for young people (14-24) who contact us. Through the clinic we are able to provide young people with support in a more timely manner, with counsellors who have experience of working with young people.”
The counselling service at GRCC is aimed towards providing a professional, caring and confidential place for victims to share their experiences and heal from them; “Through this counselling, the centre offers support to survivors and affords them the opportunity to be heard and have their experience validated. Through this work they are enabled to make positive changes in their lives”.
The centre also offers services, such as the Sexual Assault Treatment Unit (SATU), which provides specialist care for females and males age 14 years and over who have been recently sexually assaulted or raped. The Unit supports clients with information on medical issues and/or accompany them to GPs for a check-up free of charge, which can be vital after a recent assault/rape. “Our Psychological Support workers (PSW)’s provide 24/7 psychological support and advocacy within the Galway SATU. All our PSWs receive specialist training and the team is led by our Psychological Support Team Manager”.
The Galway Rape Crisis Centre is constantly striding towards a future where the cultural and societal tolerance of sexual violence no longer exists. “GRCC’s goal is to continue to expand our education service thereby helping to prevent future crimes of rape and sexual abuse. A key tool in achieving this goal is through engagement in meaningful and open debate about this very complex and difficult subject, dispelling rape myths and ending victim blaming”.
If you or someone you know wish to contact with the Galway Rape Crisis Centre, call the HELPLINE at 1800 355 355.