By Imasha Costa
Not knowing about a place could be scary, not understanding what a service or an organisation does could also make it even more terrifying. Today’s Bystander features an interview with Margo Noonan, Head of the Sexual Assault Treatment Unit (SATU) in Cork. SATU is renowned for its discretion for victims of sexual crime and allows victims to have a safe space to come to. I had the privilege to visit the unit in the South Infirmary and get a sense of the space. There is no music played, no sprays of perfume scents and just white walls; the nurses do not wear nurses uniforms, allowing victims to not be triggered eventually when they leave the space. I spoke to Margo in early September, before the SATU opened a clinic in Bantry, West Cork. It is the first sexual assault treatment unit to be opened in West Cork, saving vulnerable men, women, and non-binary people their time, the trauma, and the expense of having to travel to and from the city for after-care appointments.
This article contains mentions of sexual assault and violence. If you feel that you may be triggered, please skip this article, or contact any of the helplines mentioned at the end of this article.
What does SATU provide?
SATU provides a service to those that have experienced a sexual crime. They will give you immediate medical, psychological, and emotional support that you would require. This could include:
- Medical examinations as well as treatment for injuries
- Emergency Contraception
- STI check-ups
- Emotional support
- Collection of evidence for An Garda Síochána
- Organising follow-up care
- Providing useful information
What is something that people should understand when coming into SATU?
The most important thing that people should realise is that nobody is under any obligation to report their assault. For anyone above the age of 18, there is no obligation, whether it be medical, societal, or personal reasons, everything that we do here at SATU is free. There is no charge for medication, nor for our follow-up care. However, outside the unit, at the talks and classes that I do, we do ask people to make small donations to patient funds so that if we do need to buy stuff, such as tents, sleeping bags, clothes, etc.
How did you come around to working with Bystander?
I met Dr Louise Crowley when I was just talking away to students, giving talks, and because my background is in nursing, I was able to easily connect with the students. Louise had just started the Bystander Intervention, and I was discussing with her as to how I worked in Student Health for a while and we were discussing what students need and how we could proceed. Many students that do come to us are usually part of the Bystander initiative, as they are getting to know us (SATU) through that forum and then working with Dr Emer Clifford and you know, kind of breaking down those walls. I think the Bystander Intervention should be compulsory for almost everyone. I am just such an advocate for it and you would usually see me doing it when I meet up with the third, fourth and fifth years in secondary school. From the stories and from what these kids in secondary school know, they do not really know what sexual violence is. […] And if you do not know something, you do not know how to stop it. I would always try to talk about Bystander with them (secondary school kids), you know, we’re starting off with the basic skills. And then when they do get to UCC, they are going to be doing this program. And I just think that it is so important. It is so important to give the people the skills to intervene, to give them the confidence to intervene.
You opened a SATU clinic in Bantry, but you are also planning to open one up in University College Cork (UCC) later this month. Can you talk more about it?
We are very excited about it. Dr Louise Crowley had first come up with the idea. This clinic will be providing follow-up care and a space to provide information. I think for students, this will be the best place to access. There will be no forensic pod in this clinic, to make it less traumatising for victims, but if something has happened, you can drop into the clinic on campus and we can organise it for you, and work around your schedule to get you here (to South Infirmary). After that, all your other cares will take place in the clinic on campus, you will not have to look at this place (South Infirmary) again. This is going to be in a place where it does not disrupt your day. We’ve had fantastic students come to our unit in South Infirmary to promote the unit and I think it has been really successful and we have been taking the time and working with students.
I believe we are a very different healthcare facility in the manner that we work around the person’s schedule rather than our own. So if you have an appointment and you actually do not feel like coming in that day, you can ring us, and we will say that it is okay and that we will see you the next day. And to be able to facilitate students that way has been really beneficial and I think when they see how the service works and they see and meet us – I mean the team is phenomenal.
We know that a lot of students are not going to come. A lot of students who are not going to come in here, a lot of students who will never admit what has happened here and more so a lot of male students that are never going to admit, and we also have a portion of students that do not actually know something has happened. And I think as long as we keep saying that “that’s okay”, that we are here and to get them to understand that they do not need to remember everything. I think that was the fear that many students had was that, if they did come to us, there were going to be Gardí sitting here and making the victim make a literal decision. However, our main priority is to support the victim, and there are no Gardí here.
What do you hope to see if Bystander fully kicks off?
We have a fantastic service here. We have services that are free and confidential. And we have the experience and the skills. And I think, there is a bit of me going, “God if Bystander kicks off, I might be able to retire early.” But I see us all as standing, you know, […] it’s a breath of fresh air to know that there are other people out there trying to stop somebody (a victim) from coming to me. I see it as a level of series. If we implement Bystander, then it is going to filter, you know. There are going to be less people that are going to come to us because we are going to stop it. Therefore, we can make more time for those who really need us – I mean everyone needs us, but you know what I mean? If we can drive down the numbers, it shows that we can make an impact. I feel Bystander and SATU complement each other, and I think that when you have two very strong proven programs working together, it gives you more kudos and it gives you more people who are inclined to listen. I think you are stronger and unified, rather than working in separate silos.
Knowing what it is and knowing how to intervene, but also if it does end up happening, you do then know where to go for help. And that is where SATU comes in. We do know that we cannot eradicate sexual violence but this unification, I think it is really important.
It gives us students who are more inclined to accept us because we are affiliated with their college, and I think there is nothing bad that can come out of this collaboration. Only good. It is only going to be good. The students have amazing skills and experience, and they are teaching us as well. It is, especially when you are all working towards one goal, its going to be good and strong. Its going to be powerful.
The Sexual Assault Treatment Units provide three different options:
SATU provides medical alongside emotional care. An example of medical care includes giving antibiotics prophylaxis against STIs especially if the perpetrator could be a possible high risk for HIV. It is not just access to medical care, but any type of care. There is no time limit for when you can come into SATU to access the services.
SATU also provides Forensic examinations in the case where the victim would like to make a report and it falls within the 7-day period, and then gives it to An Garda Síochána.
SATU also provides a third option, since 2017, for those that are over the age of 18, within the 7 day timeframe, and are unsure of whether they would like to report or not, a sexual offenses kit can be administered and then held by SATU for up to 2 years.
SATU is free.
If you have been affected by anything in this article, please reach out to these helplines:
Sexual Assault Treatment Unit (SATU) South Infirmary
021 492 6297 Weekdays 8 am to 4.30 pm
021 492 6100 Weekends and after 4.30pm; ask for SATU