STORIES about rape statistics seem to have become commonplace in the news of late, with one study finding that many women think there are varying degrees of the crime.
Add to that a 40 per cent rise in calls to helplines from victims of sexual abuse and domestic violence following on from the Jimmy Savile case, and it can make for uncomfortable reading.
Staffordshire Women’s Aid is doing all it can to provide an outlet for women who have been victims of sexual abuse and domestic violence.
Chief executive of the organisation, Dickie Chester-James, said that hundreds of women go there for help.
She said there had been a 70 per cent upsurge in calls to Staffordshire Women’s Aid since the Savile case.
Mrs Chester-James said: “I am a survivor of domestic abuse myself, but don’t think that’s necessarily a qualification for feeling passionate about it. A lot of people will have come into contact with it.
“We are trying to meet a complex range of needs so we are very busy. Raising awareness is almost as important as helping victims.”
Mrs Chester-James also does a lot of national work, lobbying on behalf of domestic violence victims. There are currently concerns that benefit cuts will have an impact on poorer women, because that’s how many of them pay for alternative accomodation.
“I’m very concerned about the way cuts will impact on domestic violence services and women in particular,” she said. “Lots of refuge spaces are closing, meaning it’s harder for women to stay safe.
“People are also concerned about money and don’t think they have a case of domestic violence, but we can help make the situation much more successful.
“Without our service people wouldn’t have access to that kind of support, even with historical abuse cases.
“Victims really need someone independent to help them through that. The conviction rate for rape cases is incredibly low and the legal process is so frightening.”
Mrs Chester-James, who started out as a helpline volunteer and is also on the board of the national Women’s Aid group, disagrees with recent news articles that have claimed women believe there are varying degrees of rape. She said: “Rape is rape. However, I think those views come from different strands.
“There is a layer in our culture that thinks certain behaviours are acceptable and so people don’t fight back.
“To me, if someone hasn’t consented to an act of sex or intercourse then it’s rape. There was the recent news story about the judge who talked about a 14 -year-old girl. The implication was that she was provocative. Those attitudes come from some place and there can be a tendency to blame the victim.
“People think if they haven’t screamed and shouted then it’s not rape, but if they don’t want it to happen then it’s rape.”
On domestic violence victims who stay with their partners, she said: “I think it’s really hard for people to understand the dynamics of domestic violence. In some cases you can’t tell a woman who she does or doesn’t love, but you can tell her what he did was wrong.
“They will probably see things differently in the future.
“What people don’t understand is that there is a strong grooming process going on and the woman probably doesn’t think she can cope without him.
“It’s a very complex thing, and hard to understand what is going on in their head. Eventually most women come through and independence is a good feeling, and something to aim for.
“It’s very much about power and control when they claim to love them.”
The organisation provides advice via a helpline for those who may not have the courage to contact police.
Mrs Chester-James told the Mail: “If people want to go the police we guide them through, but sometimes it is historical abuse and they don’t want to go to the police.
“We support women – and male – victims of sex abuse. Even if they don’t want to go to the police we can still go through the courts.
“We are also linked in with a sexual abuse referral centre which does forensic-type testing on victims. We support them being there to be examined.”
Another issue that has recently made headlines showed 57 per cent of domestic violence victims would not go to a refuge because they didn’t want to leave their pets behind.
Mrs Chester-James said: “The RSPCA are very sensitive to that sort of thing. There is a lot of research to suggest that children who experience animal cruelty grow up to be abusers.
“If you bully animals, you bully people.”
Staffordshire Women’s Aid runs an outreach service in Burton and East Staffordshire.
You can contact the 24-hour helpline on 0870 2700 123.