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'A scream wouldn't help them': Cork homeless charity has had to pull men off women on the streets

Cork Penny Dinners says the coronavirus has put the already vulnerable community at greater risk.

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Image: Leah Farrell/Rollingnews

A CORK HOMELESS charity has raised concerns about the number of people who have become victims of sexual assault on the streets of the city since the outbreak of the coronavirus.

Caitriona Twomey, head of Cork Penny Dinners, says the pandemic has put the already vulnerable community at greater risk, both men and women, because the streets are much quieter. 

“A scream wouldn’t help them because no one could hear them,” Twomey told Newstalk’s Pat Kenny Show.

She recounted having to physically remove men from women who had passed out on the street.

“The first time that happened, when I took him off the woman, he was trying to crawl back on when I was shouting for the other volunteers to come and help me because I wasn’t strong enough for him. He was drunk but this woman was passed out on the street.

“When you see it happen what can you do? Another woman was passed out and this oldish fella was kind of up on top of her and it was absolutely disgusting.  I managed to get him off because he was smaller and skinnier. I just pulled him off her and somebody that was with me and kind of moved him away.”

In another instance, the charity found a woman on the city’s main street with her underwear around her ankles. 

“We were on Patrick’s Street one night and we came across a homeless woman and she was laying outside a shop and her underwear was down around her ankles.

“She was totally exposed. Two young girls got there before us and they were shouting for help. We pulled in and covered her with a bit of a blanket. The guards were called and they came and looked after her…That was on a main street.” 

Mary Crilly of the Cork Sexual Violence Centre told the same programme that homeless women are seen as “fair game” by a minority of men, but they are continually doing it. 

Crilly said victims are often disheartened by the justice system and feel they have nowhere to turn to when they are sexually assaulted. 

“There’s something so horrific is happening to a human being in our society and they turn around and say ‘what’s the point I won’t get justice, I won’t be believed. I’m not worth it anyway, it doesn’t matter’.”

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Out of fear, Twomey says many women will pick a partner to keep them safe on the street, adding “it’s better to be with one than be at the hands of a few”.

“It’s not just a tough world for them, it’s just downright emotionally and physically hard for them. And that’s for men and women, boys and girls. They are on our streets and they’re hurting big time, and they’re being and we have to protect them.”

In June, 8,699 individuals were in emergency accommodation – a reduction of 177 on the figures from May. It continues a trend seen in recent months during the pandemic, beginning with March seeing the numbers of people homeless dropping below 10,000.

Last month, there were 6,046 adults and 2,653 children in emergency accommodation. Within these figures were 1,159 families. 

If you or someone you know has been affected by sexual violence you can contact the DRCC’s National 24-Hour Helpline on 1800 778 888. More support information is available here.

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Adam Daly

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