AFTER 21 years as executive director with Rape Crisis Mid West, Miriam Duffy has good news and bad news for the people of Limerick.
“The good news is that there is a greater awareness of the service and of what sexual violence is. People are less afraid to contact us and reach out,” Ms Duffy told the Limerick Post of her time with the organisation.
“The bad news is that the number of people experiencing sexual violence is ever increasing and the nature of that violence has become much worse.”
Hand-in-hand with the numbers seeking the help and support of Rape Crisis Mid West, she says, is the chilling fact that the number of people under 18 years of age experiencing sexual violence is on the increase.
Miriam attributes this fact to the increasingly dark nature of sexual violence and the decreasing age at which children are experiencing depictions of sex and sexual violence. She also points firmly towards internet porn.
“What children are being exposed to at a very young age is a distorted sense of sex and sexuality,” she said.
“Parents tell me they are extremely careful to monitor what their children’s activity online is like, particularly their phone activity. I ask them ‘are you monitoring what the child next to yours in the playground is viewing on their phone?'”
The answer to that question, Miriam believes, is no, adding that “it’s impossible to stop young people getting their hands on misinformation”.
Miriam is hopeful that the new school curriculum, in which sex and sexuality programmes are taught at second level, will give a clearer and more authentic take.
However, she would also like to see the programme spread to primary schools “in an age appropriate way”.
Miriam feels, in her line of work, that it can be hard to see what has been achieved so far.
However she acknowledges that there have been many improvements saying: “One of the key moves, in my mind, was the establishment of the Garda Protective Services Unit, which was piloted in Limerick.”
“They are highly trained and the sensitive manner in which they deal with survivors and gather evidence that enables our clients to feel more confident and give better evidence(to get convictions”.
She also feels that moving responsibility for the service and for domestic abuse services to the Department of Justice shortly will underpin funding and give clarity.
Having spent 21 years with Rape Crisis, and 15 years before that in domestic abuse services, Miriam says she has no immediate plans for the future, but is glad that she is leaving Rape Crisis Mid West in a strong and stable shape.
“When I started, we were renting a premises in Mallow Street. Now we have our own beautiful house in Punches Cross and we’re about to close on buying a property in Nenagh,” she says.
“It has been a true privilege to lead such a vital organisation for the past 21 years. I could not have done it without the support of the dedicated team of staff and volunteers who work here.
“My sincere thanks to the wider community for their support, which has been instrumental in the development of our services. The business community, who donate financially and have always been generous with their expert advice. The local organisations, community groups, schools, and colleges who work with us in creating awareness and supporting communities work and educating future generations.”
She also expressed her thanks to those who have contacted Rape Crisis Mid West for placing their trust and confidence in the organisation.
Rape Crisis Mid West is open to men and women who have survived any form of sexual violence, whether recent or in the past.
Last year the organisation offered 3,100 hours of counselling and support to survivors in its Limerick centre, as well as other services including Garda and court accompaniment and advocacy to family and supporters.