Rape and sexual abuse are topics many in society would prefer not to talk about.
But while victims may find it hard to open up about their experiences, doing so can be the gateway to recovery and can have life-changing effects, as the new manager of Burton-based charity SARAC can attest.
As a rape victim herself, Tracey Hardie was helped to overcome her ordeal by the kind of support she now offers to other victims, as she tells Mail reporter TIM FLETCHER
LIKE all the volunteers at the Burton-based charity she runs, Tracey Hardie cares passionately about helping victims of rape and sexual and domestic abuse.
She has good reason to. Two years ago, while on holiday in Turkey, she herself was raped, after being tricked by the assistant manager of the hotel in which she and her husband were staying.
“It was night time, my husband was unwell and had gone to bed early and this man had joined the company of people I was with and was buying all the drinks,” she recalls.
“It was getting late and he said: ‘You look awfully tired — let me escort you back to your room.’ “On the way, he asked me to look into some of the other rooms. I was tired and had had a few drinks as I was on holiday, but I knew something wasn’t right.
“In the end, I just looked around the corner of the door into one of the rooms and that’s when he pushed me inside. I was in there for some time.” Afterwards, Tracey and her husband, who had been sleeping in their room a few doors down the corridor, were left to pick up the pieces.
“I managed to get away, back to the safety of my room and from that point on I was in shock,” she says. “I just blanked out what had happened — it’s a form of psychological protection.
“My husband realised something was wrong after I had a sleepless night. He went into shock and it made him physically ill. I was lucky that he didn’t doubt anything I was saying and was very supportive, but he was just at a loss and didn’t know how to help.” Tracey experienced the maelstrom of emotions typical to victims of such crimes, which can include guilt, anxiety, shame, an urge to shower constantly, physical sickness and a desire to keep the incident secret.
Without help, the after-effects of such an attack can blight the lives of victims, who may seek to block out their experience by throwing themselves into work or turning to alcohol or drugs.
But Tracey, who at the time was working in Scotland, was fortunate in that she managed to find help and support at a local centre for rape victims.
“It turned my life around,” she says.
“This man had caught me out and I had put my trust and faith in him, but with the support I received I realised I wasn’t to blame and that I wasn’t alone.
“The critical thing was ringing that helpline and speaking to someone. I’ll never forget the people who helped me and I’ll never stop being grateful to them.” The support she received had such an impact that Tracey, originally from Birmingham, became a volunteer for the organisation which had helped her, and realised it was something she wanted to do as a career.
After spells managing centres for women with breast cancer and a stint at the pioneering Beatson West of Scotland Cancer Centre, she found her calling when a vacancy arose for a new manager at Burton charity SARAC (Sexual Abuse and Rape Advisory Centre), a role she took up at the end of August.
Founded in 1995, the charity has a staff of 23, mostly volunteers, and offers a free helpline service, emotional support, specialist advice and information and one-on-one counselling for women and men and children over the age of 13 who are affected by rape or sexual or domestic abuse.
“I’ve been incredibly impressed by the dedication everyone here puts in,” she says. “They have the specialist skills, knowledge and training to guide people through and help them recover and the ethos and the belief system we all work to is that there is hope.
“We are passionate about this and we genuinely care, understand and believe you.” While talking to a stranger about their experiences may appear a daunting prospect for victims, Tracey says people can experience vast benefits if they grasp the nettle, pick up the phone and seek help.
“I’ve seen someone who all her life had difficulty maintaining relationships and keeping jobs, who suffered with depression, who after having support from SARAC says she’s never felt as good in her own life as she does now,” she says “It’s not only helped with that specific problem but all the other problems which go along with it. She feel’s she’s been given a new start in life.” While the intricacies and shortcomings of the Turkish legal system mean that Tracey’s attacker has never been brought to justice, she insists she feels no anger towards him and, thanks to the support she received, suffers no lasting effects.
“It was an unpleasant time in my life and not one I’d wish to repeat, but I have begun to realise some positives have come out of it,” she says.
“It’s made me realise what a strong person I am. I was always determined to get back to the way I was before and I’ve achieved that.” While it’s a sensitive subject to broach, Tracey hopes speaking out — and showing people she has emerged from the ordeal a stronger person — will encourage other victims to come forward, and bolster fund-raising for a charity which people may not be as keen to donate to as those dealing with less trauamatic topics.
“I’m aware it’s uncomfortable for people and that it’s a bit of a taboo subject, not something that society wants to focus on and think about,” she says. “But maybe if we start being more open about it, it could change things.
“I’m not talking about this to try to make others feel as though they have to speak out. I just want people to realise that they really don’t have anything to be ashamed about, and that they can get help.”
Could you help?
SARAC is always seeking volunteers to join its team offering counselling and support to victims.
“The more volunteers we can get, the more support we can put out in the community,” says Tracey. Our volunteers come from all different backgrounds but the thing that unites them is their dedication, their wish to support people and the fact SARAC has given them the specialist skills and training to do that.”
Anyone interested in volunteering or making a donation is asked to email email@example.com k or write to PO Box 3, Burton-on- Trent, Staffs DE14 1BB.
Help is out there — call 01283 517185
SARAC supports people aged 13 or over, men or women, who are affected by rape, sexual and or domestic abuse.
The charity offers victims a confidential service, specialist trained workers, a safe environment at its Burton counselling centre, someone to listen who will not be judgmental, someone to discuss their options with and practical advice and information.
All answer phone messages will be replied to as soon as possible, while no call back will be made unless callers leave their name, a safe telephone number and a convenient time to call