Sexual violence can happen to anyone, in any walk of life. Sadly, this can happen at home – a place everyone should feel safe.
Officers from Cumbria Constabulary are working with partners this month to raise awareness of this issue, encourage people who suffer sexual violence to come forward and to shine a spotlight on the help and support out there.
Sexual violence can be carried out by people including partners, husbands or wives.
Consent is a key issue in this, with misconceptions still existing on this issue.
Detective Chief Inspector Vicki Coombes is Cumbria Constabulary’s lead officer on rape and serious sexual offences.
She said: “Rape and serious sexual offences are life-changing. They can devastate individuals, their families and the wider community.
“There are so many myths when it comes to consent, particularly in a domestic setting.
“Sexual consent is where a person has the ability and freedom to agree to sexual activity. The person seeking or initiating sex is responsible for ensuring they have consent.
“Sex without consent is rape. This is no different if you are married or in a relationship with someone.
“And if someone is scared, intimidated or intoxicated through drink or drugs then consent often can’t be given.”
Between April 2020 and April 2021, 305 rapes involving adults were reported in Cumbria. Of these, 145 – 47 per cent – were in a domestic setting.
Between April 2021 to last week, 339 rapes involving adults were reported in Cumbria. Of these, 151 – 44 percent – were in a domestic setting.
DCI Coombes said: “We understand that not everybody who has suffered domestic violence or sexual violence wants a police investigation or to go court.
“It is really important that everyone knows that there are support services available should they need them, whether or not there is a criminal investigation.
“If you have been the victim of a rape or sexual assault, we would always encourage you to report it to police, so that we can ensure you are put in contact with the appropriate support service.
“Your report will be taken seriously and investigated by specialist officers should you wish.
“However, there are a large range of support services that can be accessed regardless of whether you have reported a crime to the police or not.”
The Bridgeway is the county’s dedicated SARC (Sexual Assault Referral Centre).
Anyone who attends The Bridgeway will receive non-judgemental care and advice, including a full forensic medical examination and onward referrals to essential support services, whether they have reported to the police or attended as a self-referral.
Donna Cardell is the manager at The Bridgeway.
She said: “At The Bridgeway, we are pleased to be supporting the Cumbria Constabulary campaign this month.
“Rape and sexual assault and domestic violence so often go hand-in-hand and the victims often find it difficult to report or sometimes don’t even realise that what they are experiencing is sexual abuse.
“Anyone who has experienced rape or sexual assault can attend The Bridgeway whether they have reported to the police or not.
“If you feel that you are not ready to report to the police or don’t want to report, please still get in touch.”
Rebecca Williams, Sexual Violence Communications and Engagement lead for the North West, said: ”Sexualviolencesupport.co.uk is an online directory of specialist sexual violence support services. You can find your local support service by entering your postcode into the search function on the website.
“It’s important to remember that no matter when it happened, you will be listened to. It is never your fault.”
Cumbria’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Peter McCall, said: “Rape and sexual assault can have devastating effects on someone’s life, and this can be made worse when the perpetrator is someone that was trusted, such as a romantic partner or family member.
“The message needs to be very clear: Sexual contact without explicit consent is illegal.
“Sexual activity is not a right in any relationship and just because someone agrees to sex or sexual activity once does not mean they have given lifetime consent – each interaction needs consent.
“I would always urge anyone who has been raped or sexually assaulted to report it to the police.
“Your report will be taken seriously.
“I understand that this isn’t an option for everyone, which is why I commission services in Cumbria to help.
“The Bridgeway is an organisation for all of Cumbria, based in Penrith, and offers emotional and practical support, emergency contraception and access to screening and treatment for sexually transmitted infections.
“They offer medical examination and collection of forensic evidence, refer onto counselling and/or other support services, and can help make a report to the police, if that’s what the service user wants.
“Their helpline 0808 118 6432 can be used 24/7 or email on firstname.lastname@example.org with all other services by appointment.
“Victim Support can also provide information, advice and signposting to appropriate services based on the wants and needs of the service user.
“Victim Support are also available for advice and signposting to appropriate services and can be contacted Mon – Fri, 9am-6pm on 0300 303 0157, or 24/7 helpline 0808 1689 111.
“For those that are unable to speak on the phone Victim Support also has a 24/7 online chat on their website, victimsupport.org.uk.
“Please reach out for support – you are not alone.”
WHAT SERVICES ARE AVAILABLE?
A list of services available in your postcode area are summarised here: https://sexualviolencesupport.co.uk/
HOW DO I REPORT TO POLICE?
If you wish to report to police you can do so online at www.cumbria.police.uk/report-it.
You can also phone on 101.
Always phone 999 in an emergency or if a crime is in progress.
Alternatively, you can contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.