Delays in accessing essential services, as well as a lack of local supports, is adding to the harm suffered by victims of sexual violence in West Cork.

That is among the findings of research into the impact of sexual violence on victims published today by the West Cork Women Against Violence project (WCWAV).

Conducted by Dr Caroline Crowley, the report - 'Listening to Survivors of Sexual Violence and their Supporters in West Cork' - drew on the experiences of some 23 survivors aged between 18 and 54, and their supporters.

Dr Crowley found that delays in access to essential services including forensic examinations and medical attention, and the lack of information and therapeutic supports in a dispersed rural region like West Cork, added to the harm suffered and impacted negatively on a person's recovery.

A key finding was that most respondents first experienced sexual violence as a child or teenager and turned to another child or teenager for help rather than an adult.

The research also documented some of the long term consequences of sexual violence in survivor's lives, including the life-long physical effects of sexual abuse in childhood.

"The powerful voices of survivors in this report tell us about the hurt and long-term impacts of inappropriate responses.

"They also highlight how to work together to support and care and build a community with zero tolerance for sexual assault," Dr Crowley said.

The research also found that most of those surveyed reported that their first experience of sexual violence was during childhood.

More than half the respondents who experienced sexual abuse as children went on to experience sexual violence as an adult too.

In most cases the perpetrator was known to them, and was most likely to be a relative.

On telling another person what had happened, most said that person was supportive although in a third of cases, they were not.

Four recommendations

The report made four recommendations including the call for a full, wraparound specialist service with trained staff to be located in West Cork, as well a community-based prevention and early intervention family support programmes.

The report also recommended the delivery of healthy relationship and sex education programmes in schools alongside awareness raising across the community.

CEO of WCWAV Marie Mulholland said: "The voices in this report are the tip of the iceberg. They need us to hear them, to believe them and ultimately to be there for them in practical, immediate and meaningful ways to help them heal, while also working to prevent future victims."

"If we can do that, then as a community we will have gone beyond anger and sadness to producing solutions," she added.