Sat, Dec 22, 2012 - Page 9 News List

Rape Crisis centers breaking the silence

Forty years ago, no one revealed or discussed sexual violence in Britain. However, the pioneering women of Rape Crisis changed all that. What more can be done?

By Kira Cochrane  /  The Guardian, LONDON

The latter are necessary, Coates says, because “when women contact us, a lot of them have complex needs, which can be around rent arrears, eviction, debt, child protection issues, children in care, learning difficulties, drug and alcohol problems and complex, long-term mental health issues. All that has to be stabilized before you can engage in counseling.”

They are currently working on a project that addresses the problems facing women with learning disabilities, who are “not getting any justice at all,” she says.

“They report, but it doesn’t go to court because it’s assumed they’re not going to make a good witness,” she says.

Last year and this year, the national Rape Crisis helpline — largely unfunded, and staffed by volunteers — took more than 53,000 calls. This year, between April and September alone, individual Rape Crisis centers and the national helpline combined have taken 63,000 calls. That was before the Jimmy Savile story broke. The late DJ and BBC TV presenter is suspected of sexually abusing children over decades and an ITV documentary about his alleged crimes, Exposure, was shown on Oct. 3. Afterward calls to Rape Crisis spiked by 80 percent.

That was not a shock. They see a rush of calls whenever sexual violence is mentioned in the media. However, what makes the last few months especially significant, Eggleston says, is that “you can turn on the TV and sexual violence is the top three stories [on the news]. I don’t think that’s ever happened in our 40-year history.”

The effect on those who have been abused is obvious in the police figures reported last week: a fourfold increase in reports to the London Metropolitan Police’s child abuse investigation teams; a 100 percent increase in reports to Operation Sapphire, the force’s specialist rape investigation team, compared with this period last year.

Often adult women do not report to the police or speak to anyone about their experience “until there’s a trigger in their life,” Eggleston says.

“It could be the birth of a grandchild, or their own child, it could be that their child reaches the age they were when it happened, or they might have knowledge of the offender being around children. Sometimes it’s exactly what has happened with Savile, where there’s the death of the offender and women feel free to speak,” she says.

Rape Crisis centers have always provided women-only space; not necessarily “dedicated space,” Eggleston says, “but at certain times of day.”

Women tell them this is important, that it is easier for them to call in the knowledge that another woman will answer. However, three-quarters of the centers in England and Wales work with men and boys too — both survivors of sexual violence and those supporting women survivors — and all are happy to refer people of any gender to specialist services that can help.

Over the years, SERICC has had to shift the age of those they work with downward from 13 to four, “and we’re saying we can’t work with anyone younger,” Coates says.

“We have had referrals of a mother with a three-month-old baby, and a year-old baby, and we can work with the mother, but we don’t know how to work with the child. You can’t,” she says.

At the other end of the age range, they have worked with women in their 80s and 90s, up to 94-years-old.

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