Rises in rape and sexual assault over the winter months have been highlighted in a rape campaign that clearly communicates the message that ‘rape shatters lives, there is no excuse’. Cheshire Constabulary’s Dedicated Rape Unit have been dealing with an increase in reported rape cases since it was established over a year ago. The launch of ‘rape shatters lives’ uses the intelligence gathered by Cheshire Police with the most prolific times of the year. They work closely with key agencies in a bid to strengthen the support mechanism for the victim.
The rape unit works in partnership with St Mary’s Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) based in Manchester and the Cheshire Rape and Sexual Abuse Support Centre (RASASC) to provide victims of rape and sexual abuse with the support, advice and counselling they need to deal with what has happened and help bring the perpetrators to justice.
The partnership between Cheshire Police, RASASC and St Mary’s SARC has shown positive results. For the period July to September 2012, 80.5% of Cheshire rapes reported to RASASC were also reported to police which suggests victims are becoming increasingly confident in the criminal justice process.
Historically, victims have said they were reluctant to report a rape to the police for a variety of reasons. The fear of reprisal, especially in cases where they had a relationship with the offender, and reliving the emotional and physical trauma associated with the case, were given as strong deterrents for reporting a rape to the police.
Debbie Dodd, Detective Inspector of the Dedicated Rape Unit made the comment that "Due to the fact that not all victims want to pursue a criminal complaint through the police, the partnership provides victims with support to make the right choice for them whilst also providing advice and guidance about their wellbeing. Moving forward, it is hoped that victims will have the confidence to speak out about what has happened to them in the knowledge that they will be supported, and particularly those victims with vulnerabilities."
The joint approach and seamless referral between the agencies involved in the investigation and support of rape victims has increased confidence in the service provided and has led to victims coming forward, not only to report a rape but to stay engaged in the criminal justice process through to a successful prosecution.
At each stage of the investigation and prosecution those involved in bringing a case to court have specialist roles and are experts in dealing with rape and sexual assault. The detectives working in the Dedicated Rape Unit, the crisis workers and doctors at the SARC who provide support and forensic medical services, the specialist rape lawyers and paralegal officers from the Crown Prosecution Service based in the rape unit, through to the counsellors and Independent Sexual Violence Advisors (ISVAs) from RASASC, all work to support the victim and reduce the impact on the victim at a time when they are most vulnerable.
The partnership has been instrumental in engaging with the victim and increased the rate of referrals to the Dedicated Rape Unit. St Mary’s SARC provides a range of services for people who have been raped or sexually assaulted. When an offence is reported to the police, the centre’s services are automatically offered as part of the response to sexual violence by giving medical exams and providing the rape unit with the necessary forensic evidence to corroborate the case.
Bernie Ryan, St Mary’s Centre Manager, said: "Since the Cheshire SARC service opened we have seen a total of 280 cases from Cheshire and had an extremely positive response, not just from Cheshire residents but also from the partners that have helped develop the service. Our main focus is to help and support people who have experienced rape or sexual assault. They don’t have to make a report to the police to access our service but if they do, then we are here to support them.
"The ‘Rape Shatters Lives’ campaign is an important way to raise awareness and encourage victims to come forward. We continue to work in close partnership to deliver a high quality service to all our clients."
Julie Evans, Operations Manager from RASASC commented that "it’s really useful having the Crown Prosecution Service based within the team and cases are coming to court much more quickly"
RASASC (Cheshire & Merseyside) is a registered charity that provides specialist support, counselling and information free of charge and in confidence in a safe and non-threatening environment for anyone accessing the service. RASASC provide services throughout Cheshire and Merseyside, with offices based in Cheshire East, Cheshire West, Halton, St Helens, and Warrington. They are commissioned to provide the Cheshire SARC in partnership with St Mary’s, Manchester and offer aftercare to people who are aged over 13 and in need of support following rape or sexual assault.
RASASC provide Independent Sexual Violence Advisors (ISVAs) who meet with a victim and agree a care plan. This can include making appointments for sexual health checks and providing in-house counselling, but an ISVA will usually accompany the victim to the police station to report an offence of rape and will support them throughout the criminal justice process by giving advice on how the case is progressing. Coupled with the support and advice provided by the rape unit for the duration of the case gives the victim the confidence in the service and reduces that feeling of "having to cope on their own."
When asked how effectively the partnership works, one of the ISVAs stated that "having a team of specialist officer’s means we know who to go to if we need any further information about a case"
Numerous people who have used RASASC and have experienced the partnership in action comment on their experience:
A 13 year old girl raped by her boyfriend said: "I moved schools, and now have a better education and yes I do feel loved and special again and no-one will ever take it away from me again. My anger has changed a lot and I have my old personality back."
A 50 year old woman who suffered child sexual abuse by a family member said:
"I would have had so many negative effects if this service had not been available. I do feel that my confidence in other areas has improved greatly. Awareness is vital for people to have the benefit of this service − I will remember RASASC in my future and hope that doctors and police have information that can be obtained easily when needed."
Julie from RASASC commented that "All of our ISVA’s have found the close working relationship with the Dedicated Rape Unit really helpful in supporting our clients. We feel that the partnership enables us to keep clients informed and ensures people feel supported through the criminal justice system."
If you would like to read more about our rape campaign, please visit www.cheshire.police.uk.