Vera O'Reilly: 'Clients have to sit in taxis'

RAPE victims in Kerry are being driven to other counties by taxi or gardaí for treatment while still wearing the clothes in which they were attacked. The harrowing claims were made after the HSE put aside money to run a treatment centre in the area but was unable to provide staff. Last year 14 victims of rape and serious sexual assaults had to be escorted to Cork for crucial treatment while one had to travel as far as Dublin.

Vera O'Leary, manager of the Kerry Rape Crisis Centre (KRCC), told the Sunday Tribune: "The difficulties that the clients disclosed to us were [having to] sit in a taxi or a garda car to drive all the way to Cork.

"It is very hard for someone who has just been raped, and they are still in the clothes that they were wearing. They feel like they are being criminalised even though the guards are great... The first thing they will want to do is take off their clothes, get into the shower and wash themselves but if there is DNA evidence [to consider] they can't do that."

If a woman was raped in Tralee she would face a 240km round trip to receive treatment at the specialist centre. The KRCC is now in negotiations with the HSE to establish ongoing funding and possibly to have the centre made a 'satellite' of the Cork branch in order to reverse the situation.

While the KRCC is in a position to support victims, many other aspects of treating them are linked to specialist centres, particularly medical and psychological treatment and DNA testing.

"In 2005 it [the Kerry centre] was running for 18 months with no funding," said O'Leary. "It was running on good will and interagency work. Unfortunately at the time there was a problem with the hospital releasing a nurse without funding.

"They [the HSE] felt it was adequate to have a unit in Cork but good practice would say that you need a centre within 80km of where the victim lives."

The actual rate of reporting sexual assaults in Ireland could be as low as 10%, according to experts, which suggests some victims could be deterred by a lack of treatment options.