Discussions around sexual harassment, abuse and rape have been dominating the headlines recently, highlighting that such horrific occurrences are happening more often than we think.
Approximately 85,000 women and 12,000 men are raped in England and Wales alone every year, according to ONS figures, yet so few attackers are brought to justice. Much like the rhetoric around the Harvey Weinstein case, people often turn their attention to the victim, asking ‘why didn’t you report it sooner?’ — an ignorant line of questioning that not only makes them feel powerless, but shames them for something that absolutely wasn’t their fault.
However, there is help out there and things can be done to help seek justice for such crimes. With that in mind, we spoke to Katie Russell, a spokesperson for charity Rape Crisis England & Wales, for expert advice on what you can do if you’re a victim of sexual assault, abuse or rape.
Make yourself safe
“The key thing the aftermath of an assault is to get to somewhere where you feel safe, be aware that you may be in shock, so try to stay warm and hydrated, and then contact someone you trust who can be with you, and who you can talk to about what’s happened if you feel able.”
Report the crime, if you feel able to
“If someone is in immediate or current danger, dialling 999 is by far the best and quickest way to get assistance from the police and/or an ambulance if needed. Certainly if someone is in need of emergency medical attention, this would be advisable. But ultimately, it’s the victim or survivor’s choice whether or not they choose to report to the police and not everyone will feel able or like they want to report immediately in this way.”
You can refer yourself to a Sexual Assault Referral centre
“If you’re unsure whether or not you want to report to the police, you can look up whether there is a Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) near you and most will allow you to ‘self-refer’ — that is to go there without having reported to the police first. If you do this relatively soon after the assault, they will likely offer you a forensic medical examination, where they will gather any evidence, which they should then be able to store for a long period of time (e.g. 2 years), in case you decide to report to the police at some point in the future. If you report directly to the police, they will likely take you to a SARC if there is one in your area for the same process, and also interview you there. You should be offered a crisis or support worker by the SARC to support and talk you through your options, but processes and services at each SARC may vary slightly.”
Speak to someone
“Specialist Rape Crisis helplines can listen and support you to decide what to do next, but be aware that these aren’t 24 hour services. They are however confidential and independent, so you can remain anonymous if you want to and there will be no pressure to report or do anything you don’t feel comfortable with. Some Rape Crisis helplines are also contactable via email or text message if you don’t feel ready or able to talk.”
Find full details of their services here: https://rapecrisis.org.
Confide in friends and family, if you feel comfortable
“Talking about what has happened can definitely help you to feel better and many people find a trusted and/or loved person in their life feels the easiest and safest person to do this with. If a friend or family member discloses to you, try to listen carefully, being patient and giving them time to say what they want to without interruption, and try to avoid telling them what to do. Instead, try to explore their options with them in a non-judgemental way, certainly not asking questions like ‘did you try to fight back’ or ‘how much had you had to drink’, as even if you’re only trying to help, these can feel like you’re blaming the victim/survivor or don’t believe them.”
“Rape Crisis helplines can also offer support and listening to the supporters; if you’re caring for someone who’s been sexually assaulted, remember to look after yourself too, without betraying their confidence.”
If you’re having trouble coping, seek professional help
“Due to a lack of funding for specialist sexual violence services, what’s available varies depending on what area you’re in, but again, our website has full details of both member Rape Crisis Centres and other support organisations, and how to access them. Rape Crisis Centres offer specialist support services including counselling for those who’ve experienced any kind of sexual violence at any time in their lives.”
For any further information on getting help, visit rapecrisis.org.uk.