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Rape in the UK, behind the screen

Claire Macmaster, a trainee solicitor at Leigh Day, talks about the new season of the TV programme Broadchurch and the importance of specialist support services for survivors of sexual violence. Claire has worked with female survivors since 2006.

Related Areas of Practice:
Claire is currently a Trainee Solicitor; she started her career in a Law Centre in Glasgow. She later worked at the Poppy Project as an Advocate for women and girls who had been trafficked to the UK and has also worked on anti-trafficking issues in the Balkans with the OSCE and as a human rights monitor for the EU in the Republic of Georgia.
In the first 7 minutes of the TV show Broadchurch, Trish Winterman, a survivor of rape played by Julie Hesmondhalgh in the third and final season of the show, doesn’t utter a word.

Despite being in almost every scene. For the viewers this provides a window into the silence and powerlessness many survivors find themselves engulfed in as a consequence of rape.

When Trish is able to speak, the first words she uses to describe the rape are, “When I came round ……he was having sex with me”. However, it isn’t sex Trish is describing. It is rape.

Trish’s silence and initial description of her attack encapsulate for me the feelings of guilt, confusion, shame and denial many survivors of sexual violence experience in the aftermath of rape.

During Trish’s silence I can imagine the following running through her mind: “It must have been my fault, what did I do to cause it?” This is self-blame and guilt, learnt by women and girls as they grown up in a sexualised society where women are both objectified and expected to modify their behaviour to protect themselves from rape.

“I was drinking, I was flirting, nobody will believe me”. This is shame and self-doubt compounded by the harmful myth that many women “cry rape” after regretting consensual sex.

Feelings such as these can cause many survivors to feel silenced. Trish’s use of the word “sex” and not rape, is also an indication of where she is at in the process of acknowledging what the perpetrator chose to do to her.

Acknowledging that “what happened” was rape is a powerful and necessary part of a survivor’s journey.

From my experience of both representing and emotionally supporting survivors, when this realisation is forced upon them, it can reinforce their sense of powerlessness and take away their autonomy, which can be incredibly damaging.

All of the above highlights how important it is that professionals who come into contact with survivors have the necessary skills and resources to do their job; and to deliver their service in a way which empowers those who have been subjected to trauma.

Rape takes power and control away from survivors, therefore, it is absolutely essential that during the recovery process survivors are treated as equals and work is undertaken at their pace.

Such an approach also assists in avoiding secondary traumatisation and victimisation occurring. This approach is something which Rape Crisis South London, and the National Helpline they run, excel at.

The Helpline works to provide a supportive, non-judgmental, safe space in which survivors can begin talking about their experiences. It helps survivors explore the options available to them and believes in their power to choose for themselves what they want to do next.

This is an important service, as unfortunately Trish’s experience of being believed and treated with the sensitivity and empathy she deserves is not the experience of all survivors.

Statistically, approximately 85,000 women and 12,000 men are raped in England and Wales every year; harrowingly that equates to roughly 11 rapes every hour.*

These figures include assaults by penetration and attempts, but do not include the rape of children or non-recent sexual abuse survived by children but who are now adults.

With that in mind, I hope you will be appalled by the following fact - there are only 4 Rape Crisis Centres in London, and the National Rape Crisis Helpline is usually only open for 5 hours per day.

Fortunately, we all have the power to change this, and here’s how; the National Rape Crisis Helpline is currently being supported by Broadchurch to be open for 14 hours per day, from 10am until Midnight, for the 8 weeks Broadchurch is on air.

The Rape Crisis Network is currently fundraising to allow the Helpline to retain extended hours when Broadchurch concludes. Sexual violence is not inevitable. It is not about uncontrolled desire, it is about power and control.

If you would like to contribute to putting the power back in the hands of survivors, details on how to donate to this campaign can be found here

* These figures come from An Overview of Sexual Offending in England and Wales, the first ever joint official statistics bulletin on sexual violence released by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), Office for National Statistics (ONS) and Home Office in January 2013.

The Helpline for female survivors can be reached on 0808 802 9999. It is accessible to women aged 14 + who have survived any form of sexual violence, no matter how long ago. The helpline is also available to provide an immediate source of support to friends and family of survivors, as well as other professionals, to help them understand how best to support female survivors of sexual violence.

For male survivors; Survivors UK offers a range of support services including counselling and therapy appointments as well as web and SMS chat. Their number is 02035983898.The Helpline Web Chat service is available Monday to Fridays 10:30 to  21:00 and on Saturday and  Sundays 10:00 – 18:00

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