Belfast Telegraph

Counselling body sees demand rise

An Irish counselling service for abuse victims has reported a 22% increase in the number of people making contact.

A total of 470 individuals have been supported by Connect so far this year

The service said that over half of the callers (54%) described an experience of sexual abuse committed in 2014.

Connect, which was established in 2006 and is part funded by the Health Service Executive (HSE), is an out of hours phone service that is open for calls between 6-10pm from Wednesday to Sunday.

The total number of calls made by victims seeking help is expected to reach over 10,000 by the end of the year.

Connect manager Theresa Merrigan expressed concern that almost a third of calls are made when the lines are closed.

She said of the calls received when lines are open counsellors were able to answer 85% - 5% more than last year.

Ms Merrigan said the 2014 figures reflected a continuing year on year growth in demand - and an increasing pressure to meet that demand within the time constraints of the 20 hours per week which Connect is funded for.

"In 2014 there has been a high number of new callers which has placed a pressure on staff to find other services for callers as there is a concern around Connect's ability to provide intensive ongoing support to such a high number of individual callers," she said.

"Most callers are in need of intensive support, and while Connect can support people through crisis, our goal is to provide initial support and then direct people towards face to face services where they can receive the support of multi-disciplinary teams."

Connect also reported that 3% of its calls originated from Northern Ireland or elsewhere in the UK.

Ms Merrigan said: "We would still like this figure to be higher as many abuse survivors now live in the UK."

She said that an increasing number of callers talked about multiple experiences of abuse and neglect.

"Many report emotional and physical abuse in familial contexts where they were abused by multiple family members," she said.

"Such experiences in childhood lead to emotional difficulties in adult life which vary from depression to self-harm and suicidal thoughts."

According to Connect's figures, the most common setting for abuse to have happened to callers in 2014 was in the family at 45.5%, followed by the community at 27.5%.

Institutional abuse accounted for 16% of calls, though this figure rose at times of public focus on institutional abuse, accounting for 23% of calls at the announcement of the Mother and Baby Home Inquiry in June and July.

To meet additional demand at this time, Connect extended its opening hours to seven nights a week for a six week period.

Of the callers who made contact, 61% were female and 39% were male, which represented a 4% increase in men availing of support since last year.

Connect is available on 1800 477 477 in the Republic of Ireland and 0800 477 477 77 from the UK.

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