“Don’t put drugs in women’s drinks”, “Don’t forget: it’s not sex with someone who is asleep or unconscious. It’s rape” and remember “Don’t rape”.
These are some of the statements appearing on new cards that have been released by RASASC this week, London’s longest standing rape crisis centre in Croydon. They aim to dispel the idea that it is a woman’s responsibility to stay safe and in doing so; encourage more rape victims to report to the police.The operations coordinator for RASASC, Fiona Elvines, said: “In the lead up to Christmas, messages are increasingly directed towards women on how to keep their drinks safe and warning them to not get too drunk at parties. What we want to do is put the responsibility in the hands of perpetrators in saying it is up to them to not rape.”
RASASC surveyed women seeking help at their centre between March 15 and June 20 this year and found that 62 per cent of rape victims in Croydon did not go to the police. The victims were asked whether they had decided to report, or not report, being raped.
Out of the 147 victims who responded, 91 had not gone to the police and when asked why, 41 per cent responded: “I felt in some way it was my fault”.
However, recent figures suggest changing positive perceptions to sexual violence. Scotland Yard statistics released last month show there have been significant increases in the numbers of rapes reported in Croydon with figures rising by almost a quarter, from 158 in 2010 to 199 this year. These figures have been steadily rising since 2007, when only 84 offences were reported, less than half the number of those recorded this year.
Yvonne Traynor from the Rape and Sexual Abuse Support Centre (RASASC) in Croydon, London’s longest standing rape crisis centre, said: “It’s important to remember that whilst the increases are still worrying, these figures are due to a rise in rapes being reported to the police which shows more women are coming forward.”
There have also been increases in two of our other boroughs. In Hackney, 149 rape offences were reported in 2011, and this figure has been increasing each year since 2008, when 122 rape offences were reported. Tower Hamlets figures have also raised this year to 135; a 10 per cent increase since 2010.
The East London rape crisis centre, NIA, which recently started a young person’s sexual violence project, is spreading a similar message across Hackney and Tower Hamlets. Jodie Woodward, manager of NIA, said: “Too often campaigns focus on women keeping themselves “safe”. Services like rape crisis reinforce that it is always the perpetrator that is to blame, therefore enabling women to recognise that a crime has been committed.”
Part of the reason for more women reporting rape is recent changes in the Crown Prosecution Service and police that mean sexual assault offences are being taken more seriously.
The CPS are currently publishing a report called “Violence against Women and Girls Crime” and say they are successfully prosecuting more cases than ever of violent offences against women. Director of Public Prosecutions at the CPS, Keir Starmer, said: “We are showing encouraging signs of a further drop in unsuccessful cases of rape and domestic violence in the first six months of this year and we will be looking to build on that improvement.”
Yvonne Traynor from RASASC commented: “Women are now believed and not judged when they report to the police. There are now dedicated officers – mainly women – who offer a service to survivors of sexual violence and who have been properly trained.”
While improvements have been made towards handling rape offences, RASASC’s report has shown that a stigma surrounding sexual violence still resonates strongly and continues to prevent victims coming forward. RASASC say they are continuing to reduce this stigma by making advice on rape accessible to the public. Recent funding from the Primary Care Trust has also enabled the organisation to put posters all over Croydon trams and buses.
“The fact that we are based in Croydon does have an impact on figures, as people know they can come to us” said Elvines. “If we can occupy public spaces and make the subject of rape more talked about in public life then we can shift the social stigma, which is what is ultimately silencing women.”