This Saturday will see the beginning of a series of events put on by Equalise, a campaign group affiliated with the University of Edinburgh’s Amnesty International student group, specialising in gender-based violence. The events, in ‘Equalise Week’, will be fundraising for the Edinburgh Rape Crisis Centre (ERCC).
The ERCC is an Edinburgh based charity and has been supporting survivors of rape and sexual abuse since 1978. The ERCC guarantees that survivors will be believed, and is staffed entirely by women. An anonymous survivor using the service commented, “It wasn’t until I started seeing the support workers that I felt I was being heard and believed for the first time.” Anna Carr, an information and fundraising worker at the centre, explained the work it does: “We work to empower survivors of sexual violence: to support them to find and make their own choices. We are based in Edinburgh city centre but we also have outreach services in East Lothian and Midlothian. We also provide support for family, friends or partners and workers who are in a supporting role.”
The ERCC recently changed its name from the Edinburgh Women’s Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre (EWRASAC), to the Edinburgh Rape Crisis Centre, in order to reflect new services it has introduced for young men and boys who have experienced sexual violence. According to the report ‘Silent Suffering’, commissioned by the Greater London Authority in 2015, across the UK there were 26,483 recorded sexual assaults and rapes of males between 2010 and 2014. However, the report estimates that a further 652,568 unreported incidents took place. Rape is an under-reported crime, with men less likely to report incidents than women. When they do, they often have different support needs. This is also true for transgender survivors, and the ERCC was, according to Anna, “one of the first rape crisis centres to become fully transgender inclusive as transgender people experience high levels of sexual violence.”
Rape and sexual assault is a big problem at universities. “We see many students accessing our services and believe there has been an increase in the number of students we are supporting,” added Anna. “Many students are signposted to us by their university counselling service for specialised support around sexual violence.” Problems with lad culture, binge drinking, and casually sexist ‘banter’ is often blamed. This was highlighted in 2014, when leaked minutes from the Edinburgh branch of US fraternity Delta Kappa Epsilon included threats to rape other students. Moreover, a National Union of Students (NUS) survey in 2010 found that one in seven female students is a victim of sexual assault or violence. Only 10 per cent of those seriously sexually assaulted reported this to the police. 50 per cent of those not reporting said they were ashamed or embarrassed and 43 per cent thought they would be blamed.
Attitudes to rape vary depending on a number of factors. The ScotCen Survey 2015 found that three in five people asked felt a woman was not at all to blame for being raped if she was wearing revealing clothing or was very drunk and, among younger people, 70 per cent felt this way. Anna explained: “The survey showed that younger people were significantly less likely to blame survivors, which indicates that progress is being made and gives hope for future change. However, we know from our work on the ground and with survivors that there is still a long way to go towards changing attitudes and we believe that education plays an important role in addressing this. Due to recent media coverage around sexual abuse issues and the resultant increase in survivors making reports to the police, we are seeing an increase in the demand for our service. However, while there is still an increase in people reporting to the police conviction rates remain low.” Fewer than 1 in 30 attackers are convicted and it can take two years to bring the case to court; it is not uncommon for survivors to drop out of the process, often finding it distressing. Such figures can also deter reporting.
Often the onus of prevention is placed on the victims to protect themselves, rather than the perpetrators. Campaigns, like Rape Crisis Scotland’s (RCS) top ten tips to end rape, turn this on its head to emphasise the issue. The campaign’s posters feature handy tips to prevent rape, such as: ‘use the buddy system! If you are not able to stop yourself from assaulting people, ask a friend to stay with you while you are in public,’ as well as top tip number ten: ‘Don’t rape.’
Prevention is also a key part of the ERCC’s work and it runs workshops to teach young people about sexual violence and consent. “We aim to change attitudes about gender based violence and improve services for survivors,” said Anna. “As part of our prevention work with young people we offer free, high quality sexual violence prevention education to 11-25 year olds in schools, youth groups and other youth settings in Edinburgh. It is important that we all learn about sexual violence – students, professionals, members of the public – in order to try and change it.”
The fundraising events held by Equalise kick off with a ‘ceilidh for equality’ on 30 January, with the final event, a cabaret evening, on 4 February. Georgia Dagher, a member of Equalise, explained the need for fundraising: “The Edinburgh Rape Crisis Centre is constantly facing financial problems as its government funding is not enough for it to run all year long. As a result, its users have to wait weeks, sometimes months, before receiving the support they need.
The ERCC’s work is unfortunately very much needed in Edinburgh, and because the support they provide can be vital to some of its users it is essential that the centre continue to operate.”
Last year Equalise held a similar event which raised £1271.59. This year’s ‘Equalise Week’ will see a film screening of American-Iranian film ‘A girl walks home alone at night’, as well as the ceilidh and debates about gender violence. Georgia says, “The event I’m looking forward to the most is the political debate on gender based violence and public policy.”
Survivors, or concerned family/friends/partners can contact ERCC directly on firstname.lastname@example.org, or can call the Rape Crisis Scotland National Helpline on 08 088 010302 between 6pm-midnight.
Image: Saffron Blaze