As the Scottish Borders Rape Crisis Centre (SBRCC) marks its fifth birthday, Police Scotland has launched the next step in its ‘We Can Stop It’ campaign to raise public awareness of what rape is and what consent really means.
In light of the new police drive and reports showing that the number of recorded sexual crimes in Scotland is at its highest level for more than 40 years, the work done by the SBRCC is more important than ever.
Since the centre began operating in July 2010, it has helped hundreds of women and girls, offering emotional and practical support to anyone over the age of 12.
The number of people seeking help from the centre, which is based in Galashiels, has increased year-on-year, most notably in the last 18 months.
Susie Stein, who runs the centre, puts this down to increased media attention, and growing awareness and understanding in society around issues related to rape and sexual assault.
She says the fact that the topic is more talked about than ever before means that victims now feel more able and confident to come forward and report abuses.
There are also many more services available from which victims can access help and support. The team at the SBRCC, for example, has grown to 11 fully-trained support workers who deliver assistance to survivors of sexual assault across the region. This means that the centre is able to offer support to anyone who needs it, as well as assisting families, friends, partners and colleagues of victims.
The centre always tries to speak directly to survivors who contact them about the support they’ve received, and then uses the feedback to develop their support and ensure that they are meeting the needs of the females who they help. The positive responses the centre has had has shown that the assistance they offer is invaluable and really does make a difference to the lives of victims.
There are many other difficulties to be addressed in the attempt to combat rape. For instance, according to figures published by the Crown Office, only a minority of rapes reported to the police ever proceed to court.
It is hoped that the new drive, which is aimed at potential perpetrators of rape, will help decrease the numbers of this type of crime committed by making people aware both of t he gravity of the offence and that the full force of justice will be brought upon anyone who is guilty.
The latest phase of the ‘We Can Stop It’ campaign includes a hard-hitting post-watershed TV and viral ad aimed at 16 to 27-year-old men, continuing the perpetrator-focused approach, and attempts to challenge behaviours and attitudes towards consent and rape.
Susie believes the police campaign is another step in the right direction. “Anything that’s in the public domain that raises awareness about rape and sexual violence is good,” she says. “It’s moving away as well from the victim-blaming attitude and is putting the focus on the perpetrator.”
Sandy Brindley, national co-ordinator of Rape Crisis Scotland, explains: “Rape Crisis Scotland strongly supports the development of this campaign, which directly targets potential perpetrators of rape. The law is clear – sex without consent is rape, but we need to do much more to increase public awareness around this issue.
“The new advert can play an important part in making sure people, particularly young people, are clear about what rape actually is, and that it can have serious consequences.”
In his summary of the campaign, Police Scotland chief constable Sir Stephen House says: “Police Scotland is working closely with partners to raise awareness and tackle the life-changing impact of sexual crime. We must do all we can to prevent rape and sexual assault, alongside offering all the necessary support and protection to those who are victims of sexual assaults.
“The number of people coming forward to report rape is increasing, which is a positive sign that victims are becoming more confident in coming forward, knowing their report will be thoroughly investigated. But we know this is an under-reported crime. We want to encourage people to come forward and to report. Let me be very clear. We will listen and we will act.”
The media focus on rape and sexual assault does seem to have done some good in encouraging those who suffered sexual assaults in childhood to come forward now and talk about it.
The majority of women who contact the SBRCC are seeking support for childhood sexual abuse.
The national figures appear to corroborate this. Of the 1,797 rapes recorded by Police Scotland in the past year, 40% were historic cases – those that did not take place in the year in which they were reported. This represents a rise of 5.3% from the number of reported cases in 2013-14. Detection rates for sex crimes also continue to increase, from 65% in 2009 to 77% last year. This, however, is not reflected in a higher conviction rate.
There is still more work to be done, but it is through the hard work and dedication of centres such as the SBRCC, and initiatives that address public awareness such as Police Scotland’s ‘We Can Stop It’ campaign, that progress will be made, both in reducing the number of rapes that take place and in ensuring that victims are fully supported
z The SBRCC is always looking to recruit support workers and trustees. They would welcome any women who would be interested in being involved at the centre, either in a support worker role or as a trustee, and would love to hear from them. Anyone interested can contact the centre on 01896 661070.