It is only now, after the Christmas and new year celebrations, that people are contacting the Sexual Violence Centre Cork (SVCC) about the sexual abuse they suffered during the festive season, says its head, Mary Crilly.
“That’s because people try to keep things on hold until they get Christmas over and then they’ll collapse. They didn’t want to spoil Christmas. There were a few calls [to the centre] over Christmas, but only a handful,” she says.
A thousand fewer contacts were made to the Camden Place offices in 2020, according to the organisation’s last annual report, but that merely illustrates the impact of Covid-19 on women’s ability to get help, not the level of demand.
“It showed us how important professionals are to people. We normally get referrals from social workers, doctors, the gardaí and others. We continued to get contact from the gardaí as they seemed to be the only agency that were there constantly."
The SVCC, which employs counsellors and brings victims of rape to the Sexual Assault Trauma Unit (SATU) at the South Infirmary Hospital in Cork as well as providing a helpline every day of the year, is adept at running memorable campaigns. For the festive season, a poster depicting a broken Christmas ornament with the words “Christmas can be fragile” was on the front windows of the building. “That’s how we see Christmas,” she says.
Contrary to belief, sexual violence levels do not increase at Christmas. Simply put, they are bad all of the time. “Our figures for last year were very similar to the year before and to the year before that.” Last year, a lot of people thought rape numbers would fall because the pubs were shut: “But 80 per cent of people are raped by someone they know. You could have someone in an apartment or student accommodation who is raped by somebody else in the apartment. The victim can feel there’s nothing she can do. That was happening with and without Covid. I think it really shows what rape is. It’s about power and control. It’s not something that just happens when people are drunk. It’s not where a guy just loses his mind for a minute and does it. It is planned and pre-meditated – even if only five minutes beforehand. The guy has decided he is going to rape and he feels entitled to do it,” she said.
Crilly will probably retire next year when the SVCC is 40 years old. Before then, there is a campaign on stalking to be done: “I think it is a big issue. There has never been a survey looking at the prevalence of stalking.”
The SVCC is working with University College Cork on a survey about the issue, which is the subject of legislation before the Seanad. “We need to show the authorities how prevalent stalking is,” she says. For Crilly, the campaign is never over.