‘Norwich rape support centre saved my life’ - Rape awareness campaign in launched in Norwich

A major campaign has been launched in Norwich to prevent rape attacks and raise awareness about help available to victims.

'Rape: Time to Stop' sees police from Norfolk and Suffolk team-up with sexual assault referral centres (SARC) in both counties to help victims of sexual offences.

Almost 30% of reported rapes happened within the Norwich City Council area in 2011, the highest percentage in Norfolk.

The summer months between June and September saw a surge in attacks, with the majority of incidents happening at the weekend.

Across the rest of the county the number of rapes reported increased from 2009 to 2011 gradually.

The campaign is working with victims of sexual assault, launching its video entitled Look What You Did.

The short film documents the journey of three victims of rape and sexual assault, highlighting the work the SARC centres do for victims.

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Assistant Chief Constable Charlie Hall, who leads on protective services, said: 'We want to prevent people becoming victims and ensure they have confidence to come forward.

'This campaign is all about raising awareness.

'The SARC centres provide a professional service to victims and the campaign is not only about prosecutions but also about supporting the victims.'

The campaign is particularly targeted at men and women aged 17-24, the main age group victims fall in.

The SARC centre in Norwich, The Harbour Centre, opened in 2010, and provides 24-hour help and support to victims of sex offences, including counselling and a medical examination, with no obligation for the victims to go to the police.

Diana Baxter, manager of the Norwich SARC centre, said: 'People who are worried about coming forward and telling the police have a chance to tell us first and find out what their options are.

'For some people reporting the rape formally is not always the right thing for them which is fine.

'At SARC we provide lots of support, as well as a medical examination incase the victim does decide to go to the police.'

As well as support for new rape cases, SARC also deal with historical cases which have happened years ago.

Detective Superintendent Katie Elliott who leads specialist police services for victims of sexual violence in Norfolk said: 'Our message to young women is to be aware of your personal safety because the majority or rapists are not strangers but someone you know - an acquaintance, a partner or ex partner, or someone you have just met.'

Asst Chief Con Hall echoed this, he said: 'In the vast majority of cases the offender is known to the victim.

'It's not just about strangers going about attacking people in alleys.'

Beverley Leek, a crisis worker at SARC in Norwich, said: 'I really hope the campaign encourages people to come and get help, and really show them that there are places to go for that.

'After care is such an important part for people who have been subject such.

'No one can be un-raped but they can get help to deal with it.'

SARC is funded by the police and the NHS, and victims can either reach the centre by police referral, after reporting their attack, or by contacting the centre themselves by self-referral.

Last year the Norwich Evening News launched a domestic violence campaign, Don't Suffer in Silence.

It aims to highlight the problem of domestic abuse and encourage sufferers to come forward and for action to be taken against attackers.

The paper covered the experiences of many victims and covered their stories in court.

To report domestic abuse to Norfolk police call 999 in an emergency or 101.

CASE STUDY - A victim of rape shares her story:

Sheila, not her real name, is a 64-year-old Norwich grandmother who has worked in the medical profession all her life.

On a summer's day four years ago she was at a party with her partner and their friends.

It was summer and they were enjoying the balmy weather and fizzy wine.

Sheila remembers she was wearing shorts, and a pretty top she had bought especially for evening.

Sheila's partner seemed suddenly very drunk, falling over, so Sheila took him to bed upstairs.

She carried on socialising with the party-goers, feeling a little annoyed with her partner that she was at the party without him.

As people started to leave and go to bed, Sheila found herself alone with a man she knew.

She said: 'We were chatting and I felt safe. You don't think when you are out that you have to feel unsafe or wary.'

But then something changed.

'He started to grab me, was saying horrible things to me, and making me do horrible things to him.

'I felt as though I was being violated and was thinking 'why can't anyone hear me?', but there was nobody around or awake to help me.

'There was fear in my eyes and I was crying.'

Sheila was being raped.

She says the attack went on for at least two hours, but it felt like many more.

'I don't know if anyone knows what total humiliation and loss of control feels like, but I felt it.'

After the attack Sheila went to join her partner in bed upstairs.

As she got to the door of the bedroom where the man she loved slept, she saw her attacker through the window, sitting outside.

He had kept her underwear as a memento.

The next day was a Sunday. Sheila didn't tell anyone about the attack.

'I was with my partner just trying to pretend to myself that it didn't happen, I just wanted to block it out.'

The following day she went to work, still in shock and in a lot of pain.

She said: 'My breasts hurt and were bruised. I felt like I couldn't possibly tell my partner or my family because it would hurt them so much. I thought it would destroy them.'

By Wednesday Sheila said she feared for her sanity by keeping her dreadful experience to herself.

She said: ''I knew that if I didn't tell someone I would go crazy', so she turned to her best friend Jane, who did some research online and found the SARC centre.

Jane said: 'I could tell there was something wrong when Sheila phoned me.'

Jane told Sheila's partner for her, because Sheila said she couldn't face telling him what had happened.

~But Sheila says he has been totally supportive ever since.

Friday, almost a week after the rape, Jane took Sheila to SARC and spoke to Diana Baxter, the manager of the Norwich centre.

Sheila said; 'I was seen by a police doctor and had 30 different swabs taken.

'It was absolutely exhausting. It took ages, it was a very long process, around five or six hours long.

'I hadn't washed my clothes because I couldn't bear to touch them. They were just in a heap in my bedroom.

'I never felt any pressure to go to the police. I was completely reassured that they could keep my evidence for a number of years.'

Sheila received counselling from the SARC centre, and with their support, and a day after her visit she went to Bethel Street Police Station in Norwich to report the rape.

She said: 'There was always someone with me and always someone at the end of the phone. They did everything.'

SARC supported Sheila through her emotional turmoil as well as the judicial process.

Sheila's 45-year-old attacker was found guilty of rape and two sexual assault charges and was sentenced in January 2012 to seven years in jail, as well as being placed on the sex offender register indefinitely.

Four years after the attack Sheila has shown how far she has come since the attack, and the courageous woman she is.

She said: 'When I see two men walking down the street now I don't avoid them now out of fear.

'I would not want anybody to feel how I felt at that time and not get the help that I got.

'I really did not realise what help was out there until Jane found SARC.'

On why Sheila is speaking out about her experience she said: 'I want some positive to come out of the hellish time I went through.

'SARC saved my life. If I hadn't contacted them then my whole life would have changed.'

How to get in touch if you have been a victim of a sexual offence - Contact The Sexual Assault Referral Centre:

The Harbour Centre, Norfolk:

- You can call the 24-hour helpline on 0845 456 4810

- Visit www.harbourcentre.co.uk

- Email contact@theharbourcentre.co.uk.

- Or contact the Norfolk police on the 101 number, or 999 in an emergency