Rape Crisis Centre seeks local volunteers to support survivors

Dawn Osbourne of the Rape Crisis Centre in Bridge Street, Galashiels.
Dawn Osbourne of the Rape Crisis Centre in Bridge Street, Galashiels.

The Scottish Borders Rape Crisis Centre is appealing to Berwickshire women to apply for a voluntary role as a support worker with the service.

Could you listen to, believe and support women who have been a victim of sexual violence?

Run by women for women, the Centre provides emotional and practical support and information to women and girls aged 13 and over who have experienced rape or sexual violence in their lives.

This includes sexual assault, childhood sexual abuse and other forms of sexual violence.

Since opening its doors in July 2010, 77 Borders women have accessed the service, including a growing number of victims from Berwickshire.

Centre co-ordinator Dawn Osborne explains: “There’s certain areas in our first year’s data that have shown areas with higher numbers of survivors than others, and one of them is around Eyemouth.”

The Scottish Borders Rape Crisis Centre provides a safe, non-threatening environment where women and girls can talk freely and in confidence about their experiences. “We work to empower women: to support women to find and make their own choices,” Dawn says. “We can give them information and support, but we believe that they are the experts in their own lives. So we won’t tell them what to do.”

The free service provides a telephone helpline and an outreach service, as well as seeing women in its Galashiels office.

“We get referrals through partner agencies, such as addiction teams, the police and mental health agencies. But we’re also very keen on self referrals because that means survivors are ready to speak about their experiences,” Dawn says.

“We respect the courage and strength it takes to speak out about experiences of rape or sexual violence, whether it has been a recent assault or whether it happened a long time ago.”

Based in Galashiels, the Centre runs a free and confidential helpline which is open daily from 6pm-midnight. Trained female support workers are there to listen and offer immediate support and information.

Dawn says: “We do have a limited out reach service as well because we are aware that the Borders is so big, so we can be difficult to access. We will see those survivors who are unable to get themselves across to Gala closer to where they come from. However some survivors prefer to travel to the centre, they don’t want to be seen in their local area because of the social stigma and people knowing where they’re going.”

Having identified the Scottish Borders as a priority area for development of a new Rape Crisis Service in 2008, Rape Crisis Scotland, in partnership with Scottish Borders Council, pursued the initial stages of the service development. In 2010 the Scottish Borders Rape Crisis Centre attained charitable status and became an autonomous organisation with a Board of Trustees.

Since then it has been an invaluable resource to the women who have used it. One survivor who has used the Centre admits: “I wouldn’t be sitting here now if it wasn’t for you.”

As the charity’s co-ordinator, Dawn is the only full time member of staff. She works with a board of trustees and 10 support workers, who are all volunteers.

The Centre has now secured funding to put on comprehensive training for new volunteers, and Dawn says she’s particularly looking for a volunteer from Berwickshire.

“Ideally we would have volunteers from all areas of the Borders, but we don’t currently have a single support worker from Berwickshire,” she says.

“We have seen that there has been an increase in the number of survivors of sexual violence in the Berwickshire area. We’re specifically seeking volunteers from the Berwickshire area so all areas of the Borders are represented, but also in terms of out reach work, it’s much better for somebody based in Berwickshire to get there.

“We really value our volunteers,” Dawn insists. “They’re wonderful. We have a recruitment procedure, with a shortlist and interviews, and we ask that they give a minimum of four hours per week over a two year period

“What we’re looking for is people who can listen, believe and support. Someone who can listen to someone and not judge them, believe what they are saying and empathise with them really.”

Comprehensive training will be given to the successful applicants, with sessions on most Saturdays and an additional weekday evening over the course of 19 weeks. Training for the latest round of volunteer support workers will begin on Saturday, March 3.

“It’s incredibly rewarding for the support workers, but I have to say quite challenging for them as well,” adds Dawn.

To apply to be a volunteer with the Scottish Borders Rape Crisis Centre, call the office on 01896 661070 or email info@sbrcc.org.uk for an application pack. Completed applications must be received by Friday, February 3.