70% of women are affected: Key Lancashire services hold Preston gathering to highlight unacceptable issue of sexual violence
In March 2020, the Office for National Statistics released a study which estimated that 4.9 million women in the UK had been sexually assaulted in their lives, including 1.4m who had tragically experienced rape or attempted rape. More recently, a YouGov poll for UN Women found that seven out of 10 women had experienced some form of sexual harassment in public.
Such figures represent the tip of the misogynistic societal iceberg, an ingrained patriarchal culture of women often being relegated to mere objects of desire. The male sense of entitlement when it comes to sexual gratification is endemic: according to the latest Crime Survey for England and Wales, 20% of women have been the victim of stalking since the age of 16.
In order to raise vital awareness of the issues surrounding sexual violence and the invaluable support mechanisms in place to help those affected by it, a number of services from across Lancashire recently held a gathering at Preston Flag Market, with the likes of Lancashire Victim Services, Trust House Lancashire, the Birchall Trust, and Safenet all represented.
"It's fantastic to see local services working together to raise awareness and to offer their support," says Police and Crime Commissioner Andrew Snowden, who commissions Lancashire Victim Services. "There's no place for sexual violence here in Lancashire and tackling this type of crime will be a key priority in my new Police and Crime Plan for Lancashire going forward.
"I will continue to work closely with the Constabulary to target offenders, to bring them to justice, and to keep Lancashire residents safe," adds the commissioner, with the event also attended by education and healthcare providers such as local NHS trusts, Lancaster University, and Edge Hill University, all of whom were keen to show their solidarity.
While the gathering undoubtedly shone a light on the issue of sexual violence, the impact it has on victims, and on what local support services can do to help people move forward should they be affected, there was also a tribute to those who have been subjected to sexual violence in the past in the form of a candlelit vigil and a moment of reflection and remembrance.
Part of the movement to eradicate sexual violence is making women feel safe and confident enough to report such crimes. At present, such a reality is far away: in the year leading up to March 2020, the Crown Prosecution Services estimates that some 139,000 incidents of rape or attempted rape took place, yet police only received 59,000 reports.
Of those, just 2,000 resulted in a prosecution and a paltry 1,400 ended with a conviction. With such statistics, it's little wonder that almost a third of women tell no one after they're subjected to rape or attempted rape, but changing that is vital in the effort to offer people crucial support and, in the long-run, to enact real social change.
Imploring people to seek help should they require it, Lancashire Victim Services offers emotional support over the phone, in person, or online. Recognising that sexual assault and violence has a huge and resounding impact on people's lives, LVS also have a team of Independent Sexual Violence Advisors (ISVAs) who provide tailored support for as long as is necessary.
"We're really proud to be supporting this event to highlight the issue of sexual violence and to tell people about the support we can offer," said Alexandra Gornall, Operations Manager for Specialist Services at LVS of the gathering. "Our specialist team of ISVAs can offer emotional support and practical help to anyone affected by any kind of sexual violence.
"We also have a specialist team to work with children and young people," she adds, with ISVAs on hand to offer practical and emotional support for anyone who has been raped, sexually assaulted, or abused at any time in their lives regardless of whether the incident has been reported the police or not. "We'll work with you at your pace and in a way that suits you best.
"Please contact us and we will find the best way forward together."