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Sunday 1 October 2023 Dublin: 13°C
Leah Farrell Health Simon Harris at the report launch today.
# On the rise
Harris concerned over 'spike' in presentations to sexual assault treatment units during Freshers' week
Simon Harris says presentations to sexual assault treatment units are increasing.

HEALTH MINISTER SIMON Harris has said he is extremely concerned about the presentations to sexual assault treatment units (SATU) during special events such as Freshers’ week in universities. 

The minister today announced additional investment in SATU services will increase by €500,000 this year, after a report published today found the services are under pressure. 

Currently, there are six units and these are located in Cork, Dublin, Galway, Mullingar, Letterkenny and Waterford.

SATUs support adults and teenagers who are victims of rape or sexual assault. 

Sexual assault treatment units 

The six SATUs provide 24/7 medical and psychological care to victims of sexual assault, 365 days a year, working in close collaboration with the Rape Crisis Centres and An Garda Síochána.

There were 941 presentations to SATU in 2018 and there has been an average annual increase of approx. 11% over the last 4 years.

Data on the incidence of sexual violence is limited, said the minister, who added that presentation to SATUs is increasing.

Harris said the increase could be down to more people coming forward and more people reporting legacy cases, both of which are to be welcomed, he said.

But he added that he is quite concerned, not just as a minister, but also as a citizen, that there appears to be a “spike” in cases in Freshers Week, and during other festivals and occasions such as Leaving Cert results night. He said these events are meant to be “happy occasions”.

He welcomed his ministerial colleague, Minister Mary Mitchell O’Connor stating today that she plans to bring forward new plans in the coming weeks to deal with the area of sexual consent, particularly in Ireland’s third-level institutions. 

Prevention of sexual violence

“I congratulate the Minister for Health on this policy review and the focus it brings to our national response to sexual assault. Education is fundamental to the prevention of sexual violence. That is why I have placed such strong policy emphasis on improving the awareness of sexual consent among third level students,” said Mitchell O’Connor. 

Outlining some of the action plans in relation to SATUs, he said the number of forensic nurse examiners is to increase from six to 15 and the number of forensic medical examiners will increase by funding two extra training programmes.

He urged anyone in the health service interested in this area to “step up” stating that training will be provided. 

Harris paid tribute to Dominique Meehan, who previously highlighted that she had to travel to the Mullingar unit when the Dublin unit was unavailable. 

The minister said that after being violated, Dominique felt violated and abused for a second time by her experience, because she was forced to travel, was not able to wash, was not able to brush her teeth, and was not able to go to the toilet, until after she was seen in the Mullingar unit. 

Harris said the new measures meant in cases of staff shortages, “rather than making the woman or man come to the service, we are going to make sure the rapid responder forensic examiner can come to you”. 

A rapid responder will now be on an ‘on-call’ rota so that forensic examiners can travel to support patients in their local unit. 

Currently, the minister said there are no plans to open another unit in the country, stating that today’s report is silent on whether a national centre of excellence should be set up, as it has been in other jurisdictions.  

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