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Rape reports increase by more than double -

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Rape reports increase by more than double

David Mark reported this story on Thursday, October 29, 2009 12:38:00

ELEANOR HALL: The New South Wales Rape Crisis Centre says the number of rapes reported in the state
has more than doubled in four years. But the Centre's manager Karen Willis says she doesn't think
this increase is due to a surge in attacks.

A significant number of reports, roughly one in six, are being made by adults revealing childhood

David Mark asked Karen Willis about the 130 per cent increase in the numbers.

KAREN WILLIS: It's actually an increase in people contacting our organisation. We don't think it
equals an increase in sexual assault on a per capita basis.

But what it does equal is an increase in people who've experienced sexual violence making a
decision to seek support from services such as ours in their recovery and also increasingly women
are interested in information about reporting to police.

How we think, where we think this is coming from is that there are community attitudinal changes
going on out there. People no longer anywhere near as much as they did in the past, judging women
who've been sexually assaulted.

In fact we're calling those women heroines and brave for coming forward which means they'll seek
that support service instead of feeling they need to be shamed and silenced.

DAVID MARK: You're reporting 130 per cent increase over the past four years. How do you explain
such a massive jump in such a short time?

KAREN WILLIS: I think over the last, probably the last five to 10 years there's been quite an
increase in media coverage and community debate around sexual assault.

We've had some fairly high profile and pretty horrific gang rapes in Sydney that have been
extensively reported and we've also had some very brave young women as a result of those who have
spoken to media both publicly and not so publicly about their experiences. And all of those things
have led to increased information across the board.

What that is saying to people out there who might experience sexual violence is: no this is not
your fault; the responsibility for the behaviour lies totally and utterly with the offender; that
sexual violence is a crime and you have a right to consider accessing a responsive criminal justice

It's a community attitudinal change we're seeing. We've still got a long way to go but we're
starting to see a bit of a shift.

DAVID MARK: You're also beginning to see adult women reporting rapes that occurred in their
childhood. How much has that increased?

KAREN WILLIS: Look I don't have the exact figures for that but we do know that when children were
assaulted you know 20, 30 years ago often they were not believed or they were kept silent for the
sake of the family or all those sorts of things.

And then what happens is that a woman becomes an adult, she's still suffering all the terrible
trauma impacts, going through depression, suicidal feelings, maybe using drug and alcohol to manage
the pain, having problems with trust, having further domestic violence relationships, experience
further assaults.

And at some stage they say look, I'm actually worth more than this. And it's putting all of that
together and realising it was actually the violence they experienced as a child. And by dealing
with the violence from a child and processing that trauma they can actually then manage and resolve
some of the other impacts on their lives.

DAVID MARK: This dramatic jump that we've talked about, there are still 6,700 people coming to your
service every year. Is that a good thing? Is it a good thing that the number has increased so much?

KAREN WILLIS: Absolutely. The Australian Bureau of Statistics tells us that only 15 per cent of
people who've been sexually assaulted seek help so there's still 85 per cent of people out there
who don't seek support.

Now for some of those good support from family and friends is all that they need and they're okay.
Not everybody who's been sexually assaulted will need intensive therapy to recover.

But we do know that there's a good proportion who do need those support services and we know that
there is an increased willingness on behalf of people to come forward and there's an increased
support in the general community for that to happen.

A good proportion of our callers are from men who are concerned about friends, wives, partners,
girlfriends, mums, sisters, daughters who've been assaulted. So that support from men is also
helping women to make that really brave step.

DAVID MARK: These figures are for New South Wales. Is there any evidence that this is also
happening nationally; that more women around Australia are reporting rapes?

KAREN WILLIS: Yes. Certainly every state, all the sexual assault services and the domestic violence
services across the country are experiencing an increase in women coming forward.

The 15 per cent reporting rate is a national figure and we know that in police services, domestic
violence services, sexual assault services, the increase in demand is quite high.

So what we're seeing in New South Wales is indicative of the rest of the country and it's good.

ELEANOR HALL: That's Karen Willis, the manager of the New South Wales Rape Crisis Centre. She was
speaking to David Mark.