I thank the Minister for coming to the House and I appreciate it is a particularly busy time for him at present.
A number of weeks ago, I was contacted by a woman who is a victim of rape. She went through a traumatic trial and, to her horror, realised afterwards that all victim supports had dried up. She was effectively left to fend for herself and cope with the implications of the trial with no offer of counselling. Another woman, Shaneda Daly, who went public with her similar experience, stated:
You come out of the court and you’ve had your day in court, and he’s gone to prison, and you’re kind of high at the sentencing ... You’re living your life a little bit and then [that] bubble just bursts. There’s no one around you any more ... No one ever contacts you again ... any support [that was there is gone].
In some ways, these issues are just the tip of the iceberg. I have no doubt the Minister saw the report published last week by the Rape Crisis Network Ireland, which stated there was an "exponential increase" in demand for its services and it does not use that term lightly. It described how, over a period of time, there has been a doubling in the number of calls to its helpline, in addition to a 63% increase in appointments and, crucially, there is now a waiting list time in excess of a year for survivors or victims being assigned a counsellor. We know these issues existed pre-Covid and, therefore, have not sprung up during the last year. The annual report of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, published at the beginning of September, told a similar story. What is the Government doing to properly support and resource these rape crisis centres, which provide a crucial service, to ensure no survivor is left waiting for an unacceptable length of time?
I looked at the detail in the budget to see if the Government responded to the calls made by the various rape crisis centres throughout the country and I note the budget's expenditure report states the Government will maintain supports for domestic, sexual and gender based violence services. To be frank, that is not good enough. We need to see an increase in funding, not a maintenance of existing funds. There are two primary issues involved. There is a recruitment and retention crisis in regard to psychotherapists, who provide sexual assault and rape counselling services in rape crisis centres. The present situation is that such section 56 organisations have not been recognised as organisation that need to pay decent wages to retain their staff. Many of these services had to reduce salaries in line with public service wage agreements ten years ago. While there has been pay restoration and pay progress for many public sector workers, including section 39 organisations, the same cannot be said of section 56 organisations. Therefore, they have difficulty retaining staff. The second issue is the dramatic increase in demand for services, which is a good thing because people who suffered trauma in the past are, only now, willing to come forward. We need to respond to them in a timely manner.
In my remaining time, I will relay the story of Siobhan in Limerick. I am grateful to her for allowing me to share her story here today. She is a survivor of multiple sexual assaults and abuse in her younger years. Two and a half years ago, she decided to seek help. It took her a whole year to establish that she could access help from the Rape Crisis Centre, One in Four or HSE adult counselling services.
It is telling that it took a whole year to even establish that for her. When she went to them and realised that she would be waiting a whole year she described how she felt retraumatised and the toll that this waiting has inflicted on her. Of course, this is a story that is told by many others.
We are looking to hear from the Minister what supports the Government is putting in place for services within the rape crisis centres. We cannot afford to have women, and men, waiting any longer than is absolutely necessary.