Northern Ireland

Babies and elderly referred to NI's only sex assault centre

A baby holds the finger of an adult Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption Referrals have ranged from infants to people in their 90s, the centre says

Babies as young as a few weeks are being seen at Northern Ireland's only sexual assault referral centre.

The Rowan Centre at Antrim Area Hospital has dealt with about 1,700 people since it opened in 2013.

It is the first centre of its kind in Northern Ireland and is funded by the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the Department of Health.

Representatives of the centre have said referrals ranged from infants to people in their 90s.

Service manager Karen Douglas said "sexual violence knows no boundaries".

Unfiltered

The number of referrals has been put down to more people reporting rape and sex assaults. Some 13% of those referred were male, almost double the figure at other similar centres in the rest of the UK.

"We get reports from police and social services about children needing support and services, but the person who has displayed the harmful sexual behaviour are children themselves," Ms Douglas said.

"We hear about peer on peer, that's not unusual.

"What we're starting to see and hear about is the impact of modern technology and unfiltered items on phones and devices.

"The children are acting out in a particular way, not knowing the full consequences of their actions."

The centre has been designed by victims and survivors of rape and sexual assault and provides support and services, including a forensic medical assessment by a specialist team of doctors.