• Growing numbers of young women are contacting Devon’s rape crisis service

    24th November 2015 | News | Claire
  • This age group now represents around 30 per cent of all contacts with the service.

    Fee invited me to meet her after she read my Express & Echo article describing my reaction to the film, Suffragette.

    Fee is worried that young people’s sex lives are being dramatically affected by the insidious effect of online pornography.

    “Porn is changing young people’s behaviour,” she said.

    “Shaved pubic hair has become normalised. That just wasn’t the case just a few years ago.”

    There is a small increase in hospital admissions in some parts of Devon for injuries caused by anal sex, which may hide a bigger unreported problem.

    “I believe that these things are happening mainly because of online porn and young people, especially girls, are feeling under huge pressure to conform to activities and behaviours that they may not be comfortable with – and were not expected to in the past.

    Fee explained that there also seems to be some ambiguity concerning sexual consent and some young women may be taken advantage of.  Local colleges and universities across the country are trying to address this.

    Devon Rape Crisis was established in 2011, following a three year funding grant by the Ministry of Justice. 

    A one-off funding injection from the Ministry of Justice, has also meant that the service has expanded to offer services to young people aged 13-18 – and calls from this age group are growing fast.

    The service deals solely with women (or men) who have been raped or sexually assaulted.  More than 98 per cent of clients are women.  Most referrals are from women who want to talk to someone about historical rape.

    “If the emotional effects of rape and sexual assault are not dealt with it often leaves its victims with anxiety and depression, flashbacks, low confidence, shame, self blame, nightmares and broken relationships, leading to poor physical health. Lives are diminished,” explained Fee.

    “When clients come through the door for the first time they often can’t even look us in the eye.  It is really rewarding to see their confidence grow as their counselling sessions progress.”

    Our staff offer counselling and support – over the phone or face to face.  And because many of our clients are lacking in confidence, we also offer advocacy, including accompanying the client to the police (if that’s what they want) and helping with talking to employers or council services. 

    Everyone who rings is contacted by us within five days.  But because the numbers of people we are seeing are increasing, I am expecting a waiting list by January.

    Devon Rape Crisis has three offices across Devon and Torbay and also offers outreach weekly clinics in most towns. In East Devon, the towns that offer outreach support are Sidmouth, Ottery St Mary and Seaton.

    Only 15 per cent of rapes are reported to the police.  And of those just six per cent result in successful prosecutions.

    Around half of clients are self-referrals. The remainder come from a range of statutory services, including the mental health service, police, social care or GPs.

    Despite receiving around one third of referrals from NHS services, Devon Rape Crisis does not receive any funding from the NHS.

    Local funders include Devon County Council, the Police and Crime Commissioner and some local councils. However, the only district councils to contribute are Exeter City Council and North Devon District Council.

    DRC has a fully trained team of volunteers, as well as paid staff.  Volunteers undergo a 12 week training programme and a six month induction before they become “one of us,” said Fee.

    Reports of rape and other sexual offences have climbed by around one quarter between 2014 and 2015. The service had a funding increase as a result and opened another office in Barnstaple.

    On the thorny subject of consent, Fee is adamant that there needs to be a widespread “linked up” campaign promoting a zero tolerance message.  With many campaigns focusing on how the victim might change their behaviour, Fee firmly believes that the time has come for the emphasis to shift from the victim to the perpetrator. 

    More information on the work of Devon Rape Crisis can be found here – http://www.devonrapecrisis.org.uk/