‘An overwhelming surge in the demand for our services’

Grace McArdle of Rape Crisis North East writes about how the Covid pandemic changed the ways in which the Centre operated for staff and survivors.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a huge toll on our organisation and the clients we serve. Trauma whether in the past or more recent cannot be put on hold, even in the face of a national and global crisis. All clients of Rape Crisis North East were reassured that they would continue to receive one to one counselling support during the Covid-19 pandemic. It meant that the services that people needed had to change, with counsellors working remotely using online video platforms and telephone, and providing out of hours support services at times that suited clients. We put in place robust policies and safety practices led by Rape Crisis Network Ireland to ensure a safe work environment for all who enter our centre.

We saw a huge increase in the demand for our services from vulnerable people in need of support. Survivors of sexual violence were more in need of our services in 2020 continuing into 2021 than ever before and it was, and still is of critical importance that RCNE, an essential service, is able to support our clients in these challenging and unprecedented times. Many survivors really struggled during lockdown. Some clients living with a partner and children informed us of difficulty finding the time and/or the space to access supports. For others, lockdown had proven very difficult. Sexual violence was on the increase due to people being stuck at home together. In response to these concerns, RCNE had to adapt our services to the current environment as it was now more important than ever to reach out to those in need. Clients were very grateful and acknowledged their gratitude for this continued support. We would encourage our clients to find a safe quiet place where they can talk in private. For some, their safe place was in their car away from their home, the park or in a friend’s house. Some of the more challenging situations presented in Direct Provision, where people are living in shared accommodation facilities and really struggled to find somewhere away from others to speak in confidence.

RCNE offered our time and flexibility to our clients by whatever means possible. If it wasn’t safe for a client to receive support during the day, we would make ourselves available to clients outside our normal working hours. We would send care packages to those clients in Direct Provision who most needed our help and support, and we also supported many other organisations who were struggling to cope with their huge waiting lists of vulnerable people, especially people in crisis in need of immediate help.

While the true effects of Covid-19 on RCNE and the wider sector will not be known for some time, it is clear that the crisis has already had a large toll on our organisation particularly in terms of crisis fatigue and the significant loss of finances to support our service. We were fortunate to receive Covid-19 financial support from our core funders Tusla and from many local funders: RTE Comic Relief Fund – Community Foundation; American Ireland; PayPal; National Lottery; The Courts; Dundalk Credit Union; Local Councillors; Tesco Community; Rotary Club; The Great Northern Distillery and the generosity of the public through donations. However, we were unable to hold any public fundraising events in 2020 and as a result led to a large deficit going into 2021.

The cancellation of so many fundraising events during 2020 and now 2021 has led to an acute funding shortfall for our Centre. In tandem with this deficit, we have seen an overwhelming surge in the demand for our services. We have particularly seen an increase in young people in need of our counselling support along with an increase in referrals from local services, schools and youth groups. Our confidential Helpline which for many is the first port of call, has been a lifeline for many survivors and supporters of rape and sexual violence across Louth, Meath, Monaghan and Cavan during the darkest and most challenging of times over the past year. Over 3,300 contacts were made, a significant increase from previous years. Our Helpline service is supported by a team of dedicated volunteers and staff, who give their time so generously to ensure the Helpline service is maintained. Our staff and volunteers have worked above and beyond to ensure every single call was answered and supported. We do not receive any statutory funding for this Helpline service and it is totally dependent on donations and fundraising.

Regrettably, Rape Crisis Centre’s employees and their families and friends have been impacted by COVID-19 with a number suffering adverse outcomes, including tragically bereavement. Rape Crisis Network Ireland’s board of Directors offers its deepest sympathy to anyone involved in Rape Crisis Centres and their families who have lost loved ones.

Contact Rape Crisis North East in confidence at Freephone 1800 21 21 22

Read RCNI’s Annual Statistics Report here