Rape survivors to benefit from launch of extended service in Somerset

This is The West Country: DR HEATHER Flowe, Rowan Miller director of SARSAS and Avon and Somerset PCC Sue Mountstevens at the launch of SARSAS.  PHOTO: Amber Thomas. DR HEATHER Flowe, Rowan Miller director of SARSAS and Avon and Somerset PCC Sue Mountstevens at the launch of SARSAS. PHOTO: Amber Thomas.

FEMALE survivors of rape and sexual violence have somewhere to reach out to thanks to a service expanding across Somerset.

The Somerset and Avon Rape and Sexual Abuse Support launched in Taunton this morning (March 7).

Each week, an average of 60 women are raped or sexually assaulted in Somerset and Avon.

Only eight of those women report the crime.

SARSAS aim to remove victim's fears that they won't be believed or feel they have no one to talk to.

The organisation works alongside Ms Mounstevens and Somerset County Council to raise awareness of rape myths through a Somerset-wide campaign 'This is not an excuse to rape me'.

Avon and Somerset Police and Crime Commissioner Sue Mountstevens and Dr Heather Flowe from the University of Leicester gave a talk surrounding the issues and taboos of rape.

Dr Flowe, a lecturer in the School of Psychology has researched issues surrounding alcohol and sexual assault.

She said: “There are still so many myths surrounding rape, including that victims are themselves to blame because of what they were wearing or because they had been drinking, but the fact is they are never to blame.

“Around 2.5% of females and 0.4% of males in the UK are sexual victims.

“Only one out of 10 cases is reported to the police and 40% of people who are raped or experience sexual assault will tell no one at all about it.

“I believe there should be more education surrounding rape for younger people and enforcing that a woman doesn't necessarily have to say no, there are other things that show she doesn't consent.”

There is now a hub for woman to go to in Taunton for one-to-one advice and support as well as a telephone hotline and email support.

Ms Mountstevens explained the work the police were doing alongside SARSAS.

She said: “We are so grateful to the ministry of justice for this funding which has enabled us to extend the service across Somerset and Avon.

“This is a subject which I am very passionate about and I think in the past there has been issues for victims going to the police, they may have felt like they weren't listened too perhaps.

“But now we have specialist support and people trained specifically to help as well as Bluestone.

“So often when we see stories reported in the papers, the woman are pictured wearing revealing clothing, or lying in the gutter, it makes it seem like it is their fault.

“We should be picturing the perpetrators.

“It's time to stop shifting the blame, you don't go up to someone and say well you deserve to have been burgled and we need to stop that kind of attitude with rape.

“What's important is that we make sure that everyone gets the help that they need and that's why I want to raise awareness.”

Over the next year, spokes will be created in Bridgwater, Burnham-on-Sea and Minehead.

A spoke is a bit like a hub and will offer a place for people to go and get face-to-face counselling in a temporary room.

It is to help provide support to a wider area, but people are welcome to use existing spokes and the hub in Taunton if they can easily get there.

Rowan Miller, director of SARSAS said it was important to be able to extend services to rural areas.

She said: “Rape is still a huge taboo and it can be more so in rural areas because often the communities are smaller so telling someone can be harder for them.

“It's not our job to get the women to report their rape to the police but I'm hoping that we will see more women feeling able to and that more women will feel able to come forward and speak to us.

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