BBC News

Northern Ireland rape crisis helpline launched

By Eve Rosato

image copyrightPA Media
image captionRape Crisis NI said there was a serious need for the helpline service

A new rape crisis helpline has been launched in Northern Ireland.

The service comes in the wake of the Gillen Review, which looked at how Northern Ireland handles serious sexual offences.

Northern Ireland's dedicated Rape Crisis Centre on Donegall Street in Belfast closed over a decade ago after funding was withdrawn.

Rape Crisis NI said there was a serious need for the helpline, which can also be contacted via email.

According to the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), the level of sexual offences in 2018/19 was the highest recorded since 1998/99.

Karen Sweeney, the operational director of the Women's Support Network, which helps to run the new helpline, said it "provides information, emotional support, guidance and signposting".

image captionKaren Sweeney said the new helpline is an all-inclusive service for men and women

"It's a grassroots, community-led initiative with volunteers in all communities across NI.

"We've developed a relationship with England and Wales Rape Crisis, Scotland Rape Crisis and Ireland," Ms Sweeney added.

"They would be calling us before we opened asking when we were launching, saying they had received calls from people in Northern Ireland, needing help and support.

"This service is for men and women, anyone who needs our help, it's all inclusive."

'Things became so bad that I broke down'

One rape victim spoke to BBC News NI anonymously about her experience.

"I didn't really know what to do after I was raped. I knew I didn't want to go to the police," she said.

"When I went to the hospital, nurses took my temperature and blood pressure, noted I was fine and told me there was nothing more they could do.

"It took months before things became so bad that I broke down in front of my GP and was referred to counselling."

She added: "I wish there had been a rape crisis helpline available to me to talk me through my options, to help me understand what had just happened to me.

"A kind word of advice could have eased some of the pain and the shame that I felt.

"At the very least, it would have made me feel less alone."

It is hoped the new helpline will eventually grow to more than just phone and email support, but for now volunteers are taking calls and providing emotional aid.

Volunteer Claire Corkey said she was nervous when the service launched.

'Feel empowered'

"It was a big day, there had been a lot of training, but it was important to me to work sensitively with whoever came through on the phone calls.

"The phone rang for the first time, my heart jumped, but the minute I heard someone else's voice at the other end of the phone I forgot everything else and thought this person needs my help.

"Before this launched, people didn't know where to go. People are grateful there is something local for them to turn to," Ms Corkey added.

"This is about working with an individual, let their voice be heard, let them feel empowered about what happens at the next step."

The Rape Crisis Northern Ireland helpline operates on Mondays and Thursdays from 18:00 to 20:00 BST and can be contacted on 0800 0246 991.

Related Topics

  • Sexual violence

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