THE Borders Rape Crisis Centre is experiencing its busiest ever year, writes Kenny Paterson.
Referrals have risen from 43 in the whole of 2011/12 to 67 so far in 2012/13.
And the Galashiels-based facility, opened in 2010, has seen an increasing number of under-18s requiring help.
Rape Crisis Centre service co-ordinator Dawn Osborne said: “There are likely to be a number of reasons for the centre seeing more referrals.
“There has been a lot more historical child sexual abuse cases and that could be down to people now having the courage to come forward, as well as the recent media coverage of the Jimmy Savile case. It could also be people trusting the service, as we find more users are returning.
“In the last year we have noticed the centre being accessed by more under-18s and almost all are regarding rape.
“In my opinion, we have seen more under-18s come forward because of the society we live in. Our young people are highly sexualised in relation to the media.”
Full figures for 2012/13 will not be available until April, but statistics for 2011/12 revealed more people from Hawick had used the centre than any other town in the Borders.
Of the 43 referrals, nine were from Hawick, with the remainder from Galashiels (7), Selkirk and Eyemouth (5), Innerleithen and Duns (4), Melrose and Peebles (2) and Jedburgh and Berwick-Upon-Tweed (1).
Historical childhood sexual abuse made up almost half of the cases, with 13 victims reporting incidents which had occurred when they were 12 or under.
Ms Osborne added: “We have found the majority of cases are people aged between 30 and 40 who have suffered abuse when they were under the age of 15.
“These women have lived with this for 20 to 30 years, and the oldest lady to come to us was aged 70.”
The rape centre’s findings also highlighted the problems survivors have of moving on from their ordeals, with more than a third of referrals unemployed.
Ms Osborne told us: “The figures show how profoundly survivors are affected by their experiences in that they often are unable to work or carry on with their everyday life.
“They may have experience flashbacks, panic attacks, depression and long-term physical and mental health issues.”
Other statistics showed 40 out of the 43 referrals were women.
And 12 of the 43 cases had not been reported to the police, with the centre believing that figure could be even higher.
Ms Osborne told us: “The overwhelming number of users have told us that the service has been a lifeline to them.
“Without it, they may not have spoken to anyone or had to go up to Edinburgh to access help.
“I think it has made a tremendous difference to quite a number of people who have accessed the centre.
“We have also provided support to family, friends and partners of survivors who may not know the right way to speak about the issue.”
Hawick councillor George Turnbull, who invited Ms Osborne to last week’s Teviot and Liddesdale Area Forum to present her findings, said: “The issue of rape and sexual abuse is commonly thought of as a problem in cities rather than rural settings.
“It was quite alarming that this was happening to women in our communities, but I think it is fantastic that there is a facility available for them.
“They are helping women who have suffered from a heinous crime.”