This article contains references to sexual assault.
If you’re a young woman, the chances are that you’re all too familiar with the prevalence of sexual violence in the UK. An investigation by UN Women UK revealed that 86% of women aged 18-24 have reported being sexually harassed in a public space.
The report also found that out of all the women who were interviewed, 95% didn’t report their own experiences of sexual assault to the police. The main reasons for this were: a belief that the assault “wasn’t serious enough” and the fear that they “wouldn’t be believed.”
Of course, there are many factors that can deter a person from reporting sexual assault to the police. After Wayne Couzens – at the time, a serving police officer, arrested and murdered Sarah Everard, concern about the police has entered mainstream discourse. However, people from marginalised communities have long been voicing these concerns.
For example, London Black Women’s Project highlight some of the boundaries that migrant women in particular face, such as fear of deportation. And the English Collective of Prostitutes has highlighted studies that show 86% of transgender sex workers reported being harassed or mistreated by police and 49% of online sex workers in the UK were “unconfident that police would take reports of violence seriously.”
Simone Gosden, Operations Manager at STARS Dorset (Sexual Trauma Recovery Services), a charity that offers free support to people of any age or gender that have experienced any form of sexual violence at any point in their life, further explains how there are lots of complex reasons why someone may not want to report to the police.
“Societal attitudes of victim-blaming mean that survivors of sexual trauma carry a lot of shame and self-blame for what has happened to them,” Simone told GLAMOUR. “They may not report to the police because they are afraid of how they will be judged by others.
“They may be protecting family members or be fearful of how friends or work colleagues will perceive them. Others will be put off by low conviction rates or negative stories about how survivors are treated within the criminal justice system. With less than 6% of reported rapes ending in a conviction, it’s easy to understand why someone may choose not to report especially when they are already dealing with trauma.”
If you have been sexually assaulted and – for whatever reason – don’t feel comfortable reporting it to the police. Here are five other services you can contact for support:
Helplines or virtual Live Chats
Staffed by trained helpline listeners who are not there to give you advice but to just listen and help you explore your thoughts. You can call as many times as you need and not even discuss what happened to you. You can sit in silence or just release the emotions. Helpline listeners are non-judgemental and will never make you do anything you don’t want to. As listeners they are able to signpost you to therapy or other services which can help in your recovery journey. See a full list at the end of this article.
Sometimes working through trauma as a group can be rewarding as you recognise that you are not alone; there are people who can empathise with you and support you through this situation. Many times, it can be challenging to talk to friends and family and even if you are able to speak to them, they may not be able to identify with how you are feeling. The advantage of a group setting is that you are able to have a therapeutic benefit of therapy and creating a support network around you. The Survivors Trust has a detailed list of support groups near you.
One-to-one trauma informed counselling with a therapist will work with you to come to terms with what has happened, to explore and address behaviours in a safe and confidential space.
Independent Sexual Violence Advisors (ISVAs)
Provide practical and emotional to survivors of sexual abuse and assault who have reported to or are considering reporting to the police. They are able to help you make informed decisions and provide reassurances specific to each survivor. Read more about finding one at Survivors UK.
Sexual Assault Referral Centres (SARC)
A free specialist medical and forensic services there for anybody who has been raped or sexually assaulted. They offer a private space for interviews and forensic examinations and some centres offer sexual health and counselling services. These services are open to survivors irrespective of whether they choose to report the offence to Police or not. SARCs operate on a 24 hr basis and are staffed by forensic nurses and crisis workers, who are on call to respond to both Police reported incident and self-referrals. Find more info at Rape Crisis.
How to choose which service is the best fit for you
Simone says the most important move is to simply make that first phone call. “I don’t think clients themselves should worry too much about the type of service they need. The first step would be to contact their local organisation and find out what support is available and what feels like a good fit for them. They will be speaking to experienced professionals that can guide them as to what services would be most appropriate for them”, she explains.