herald

Friday 6 December 2019

Children as young as 12 plead for help after rape and sex assaults

More young people are seeking counselling (Picture posed)
More young people are seeking counselling (Picture posed)

Children aged 12 are among an increasing number of young people and teenagers seeking help following rape and sexual assaults, rape crisis centres across the country have said.

The Dublin Rape Crisis Centre alone has a waiting list of 175 adult and adolescent victims who are seeking counselling following traumatic assaults and rapes.

A worrying trend has begun to emerge, however, as counsellors have noticed a significant rise in the number of young people seeking trauma counselling.

In Wexford, the local rape crisis centre has attributed the rise in the number of teens contacting it to social media, as well as the online grooming of children from a young age.

Groomed

"Social media has had a huge impact, and we see the amount of young people coming in and being groomed online and the fact there is little education around it, which is an issue," centre director Claire Williams said.

"Teenagers or young adol- escents are being groomed online, which then turns out to be disastrous when they decide to meet up.

"Other young people are having encounters with their peers that was non-consensual and has traumatised the young person, and they too are coming forward for help."

Wexford Rape Crisis Centre currently has one counsellor allocated for young adolescents, but as more young people come forward for help, pressure is growing for more resources to be provided.

"We have five appointments a week for young people and those are full, and then we have six or seven on a waiting list," Ms Williams said.

"One of our major strategic priorities is to expand that adolescent counselling service because five slots a week is not enough."

Vera O'Leary, who has been working at the Kerry Rape Crisis Centre for 26 years, said the same concerns were being raised in her own county as an influx of young girls in the past year has sparked concerns.

"We're really seeing more young people contacting us and we're working with children from as young as 14 years upwards," she said.

"What's happening is they're disclosing the abuse in some way, but often they don't see that what happened to them was an issue of consent or that consent wasn't given.

"And the impact it has on them maturing and going forward brings some difficulties. "

In her years of experience, the rape crisis counsellor said pornography was influencing how young girls see themselves and the type of behaviour they have come to expect from men.

"I would say pornography is having the biggest impact in this area because they are looking at it so young," she said.

"The access to porn that they have is not normal but becomes normalised."

At the Carlow and South Leinster centre, an education programme is being run in schools to alleviate some of the concerns of counsellors and parents alike.

Discomfort

"Our clientele has become a lot younger, we have young people coming in at 13 or 14-years-old, so we're working with the issue of consent in primary schools now," director Anne Kirwan Finn said.

"You can stand in the classroom and sense the discomfort in front of you."

The 16 rape crisis centres and additional outreach centres provide counselling and therapy to victims of sexual assaults and rapes, as well as offering support to victims during garda investigations and in the courts.

In recent years, the centres - which are primarily funded by Tusla - have been running at full capacity.

A spokesperson for Tusla said it was aware of the need for additional resources.

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