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“You’re the only one who’s fully there for them” – Volunteering with the Rape Crisis Centre

In an interview with TheJournal.ie, volunteer co-ordinator Mairead Mallon says that they are looking at how to involve more men in the volunteering process.

Image: Helpline operators via Shutterstock.com

Earlier this week the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre released its Annual Report which revealed a marked rise in the volume of calls over the past two years.

As a charity which handles thousands of calls a year and offers support and therapy services to victims of rape or sexual assault, a number of volunteers are required to assist staff.

TheJournal.ie sat down with Mairead Mallon, Volunteer Co-ordinator, and volunteer Jan McLaughlin to find out more about the work of these volunteers who were highly praised in the annual report.

Their most well-known role is operating the free-phone helpline. While the helpline is staffed by paid operators from 8am to 7pm, a team of volunteers take calls overnight. Over a quarter of last year’s 9,142 calls were received during this time.

Although almost half of calls where related to rape, they might not necessarily be in a crisis situation. Callers may get in touch to get seek therapy years after the incident, or to just speak to someone for some support.

A breakdown of the gender of callers and the nature of their call. Click here if you are having trouble viewing the image. (Image: Dublin Rape Crisis Centre)

While they are available to give support over the phone, these volunteers are also available to accompany people to court cases or the sexual assault treatment unit upon request. Jan explained how can this can be a powerful and “very rewarding” part of the job.

“Everybody else [in the treatment unit] has a job to do, the doctors, the nurses, the guards. You’re probably the only person who’s fully there with no agenda. You’re just there with the person to be whatever they want you to be while they’re in the unit.”

When Jan first got involved with the Rape Crisis Centre as a volunteer, she had no previous experience of therapy. She was brought through an intensive and comprehensive training process to deal with the wide range of issues operators on the helpline will be confronted with.

They are also taught skills such as active listening, and how to handle hoax calls.

After the training volunteers are assigned a mentor, and are not able to man the helpline or accompany people to treatment until both themselves and the mentor feel they are ready.

“We don’t ask for any qualifications at all. We will actually teach our volunteers anything they need to know”, said Mairead, “They only need to be over 25 as they need a little bit of life experience.”

However, this is currently under review to take into account one very specific requirement to must meet to be able to volunteer — you must be a woman.

Despite 11% of the calls to the centre were from men, the lack of therapists of both genders being available for support does not seem to have caused any problems in the past

“Even if it is a male victim of rape or sexual assault, they’re about fine with speaking to a female” said Mairead, “We have one male therapist currently, and while people were initially apprehensive of this, it quickly became apparent that it was not a problem”

“We’re having a very serious talk right now about how we can involve males in our volunteering.”

Short staffed

Volunteers generally only work at the centre for two years due to the “tough” nature of the work, and so there is a frequent need to recruit more. Opening it up to men could alleviate some occasional staffing problems.

The 60 volunteers currently working with the centre sometimes aren’t enough to manage the volume of calls. This situation can occur in the wake of a report like Murphy or Ryan being released.

“You will get aged 60, 70, 80, who have never ever dreamt of going to counselling, but who see the number on the TV screen and will actually call the line. All they want is someone to just listen to their story, and they are so surprised when someone actually just listens.” said Mairead.

The age of callers to the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre in 2012. Click here if you are having trouble viewing the image. (Image: Dublin Rape Crisis Centre)

You can read the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre Annual Report 2012 in full here. If you wish to find out more about volunteering with DRCC, email volunteerservices@rcc.ie

The Centre’s freephone number is 1800 77 88 88.

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