Belfast Telegraph

Rape Crisis Service offers victims support through new service after being 'inundated' with calls

By Victoria Leonard

A new Rape Crisis Service for Northern Ireland has been launched after support charities became "inundated" with calls in the wake of the Belfast rugby rape trial.

Women's Aid CEO Jan Melia told the Belfast Telegraph that the trial had provoked "Northern Ireland's own #MeToo moment" and had led to an "awakening" over the treatment of sexual assault victims here.

Her organisation has fielded 29,000 calls for help in the last year alone.

The new initiative will see Women's Aid, Nexus NI and the Men's Advisory Project come together to offer free one-to-one support for victims - the only service of its kind currently on offer here.

Nexus NI has a waiting list of around 800 survivors of rape and childhood sexual abuse who wish to use its services.

Chief executive Cara Cash-Marley revealed it has been receiving 14 new referrals every day since the trial's verdict - double the usual rate.

The charity is now receiving approximately 200 new referrals every month.

Commenting on the new Rape Crisis Service, Ms Melia stated: "This has been an awakening, a watershed moment - it's Northern Ireland's personal #Me Too moment.

"In the light of the Belfast rape trial, we and our partners are keen to let victims and survivors know that we are here to support them.

"In the week of the verdict, calls to our services spiked, and they are still spiking now.

"We have been inundated with calls, as have our partner agencies like Nexus NI, and it has put a lot more pressure on services.

"The trial triggered a lot of memories and trauma for people.

"There needs to be a lot more done to support victims of sexual violence in Northern Ireland."

Ms Melia revealed that while helplines and forensic services are available here, there was previously no free one-to-one support service.

"All of our staff have gone through domestic and sexual violence training," she said.

"We have a 24-hour domestic and sexual violence helpline which is a rape crisis helpline.

"But we were lacking free one-to-one support. It has come out of this trial that the rape crisis support wasn't there.

"There are phone lines and we have a state-of-the-art resource in the Rowan Sexual Assault Referral Centre which can take and store forensic evidence.

"We had a rape crisis service in Belfast previously but funding was cut, so no free one-to-one support was available until now.

"The development end of this new service is being funded by the Joseph Rowntree Trust and our own fundraising.

"We are in the process of recruiting volunteers and finalising venues which we will be publicising widely," Ms Melia continued.

"We are also calling on the Government to support this work, recognising that we urgently need adequately resourced rape crisis support services for victims and survivors of rape and sexual abuse, along with clear information about where victims can get the help they need."

Green Party MLA Clare Bailey, who is the co-chair of Stormont's Domestic and Sexual Violence All Party Group, said the new service would "fill the gap in crisis support for victims and survivors of rape in Northern Ireland".

She stated: "This collaborative approach is the future for Northern Ireland and plugs a major gap in rape services for victims and survivors.

"I urge the government to provide the support that these organisations desperately need to do the important work they do."

Women's Aid's confidential 24 hour domestic and sexual violence helpline, which is open to all women and men affected by rape or sexual violence inflicted on their friends and families, can be contacted on 0808 802 1414, or by emailing 24hrsupport@dvhelpline.org

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