Gravesend's Family Matters trying to help "massive" number of victims
PUBLISHED: 12:00 26 July 2014 | UPDATED: 09:21 28 July 2014
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A charity which helps victims of sexual abuse is expecting more referrals this year from people who have come forward to report historic offences.
This comes after figures obtained by BBC Radio Kent revealed a 70 per cent hike in historic sexual offences being reported to Kent Police in the last year.
Family Matters, in Gravesend, has seen a huge increase in the number of people who have contacted them following the Jimmy Savile revelations in 2012, with numbers rising from 170 people in 2003 to 850 people this year.
Operations Director Malcolm Gilbert said: “We expect to see greater numbers this year.
“What we are doing is trying to see and help what is a massive underground reservoir of victims.”
Malcolm said that a man in his 70s had come forward to speak to the charity about the sexual abuse he suffered at a young age.
“He came to us a few years ago, and he was carrying that since before the war,” he said.
Malcolm believes that the huge rise in awareness which came as a result of high profile cases such as Savile’s has helped victims of abuse feel they are able to come forward, whereas before they may have believed that they were alone in what they had suffered.
“People are now realising just how many victims of abuse are out there.
“If there’s any silver lining to those dreadful clouds, then that is it.
“I think it’s positive that there’s a huge rise in awareness.
“It’s been good that more and more people are aware, from the political to the statutory and the public.”
The Kent Police figures released to the BBC under a freedom of information request showed that 1,161 historic cases were reported in 2013 to 2014 with 219 people being charged, compared to the 688 reports the year before.
Cases are categorised as “historic” if the abuse happened more than 28 days before being reported to police.
Det Chief Insp Andy Pritchard, from the Kent Police Public Protection Unit, said: “The Jimmy Savile story broke in the middle of October 2012 and we saw an immediate 200% increase in reports of non-recent child sexual abuse which then abated gradually but was sustained at roughly double normal reporting rates for the following 18 months. Only earlier this year have we seen these tail off slightly.
“Further high profile cases have kept a raised level of public awareness of abuse which means we do not see so many ‘spikes’ in reporting but instead we have sustained a steady level of reporting that is much higher than a few years ago. We see this as wholly positive, as victims are feeling able to speak about awful experiences that they have been living with for many years, and in many cases society was not simply able to handle that truth at the time.”
He added: “Kent Police investigations of non-recent abuse have not featured allegations against celebrities. The vast majority of non-recent and recent child sexual abuse cases involve family members, and a smaller proportion are case where abusers have groomed their way into a position of trust with a victim or their family to enable such abuse to take place. Most people worry about stranger abuse but this is in fact a tiny proportion of the picture.
“Whilst there are inevitable difficulties in tracing events back sometimes from several decades ago, and locating witnesses and suspects that have moved about the country or died, we still have an excellent success rate, working with the Crown Prosecution service in bringing offenders to justice. Often this is because we are able to identify other victims with similar stories to tell. It is very common for victims of abuse to feel isolated and that they are the only one, but that feeling is simply engineered through the power and control exerted by the abuser knowing it will help prevent the victim being able to stop the abuse or tell others about it.
“We are committed to giving an excellent service to anybody that takes the very courageous step of coming forward to report abuse. We recognise that courage and the impact that it has on people when they make the decision to speak out and re-live some of that trauma. We help by signposting and referring victims to specialist services that truly understand this as well and help victims of abuse to start the healing process.
“We would urge any victims of abuse to speak out. We will deal compassionately with people that come to us. We will not raise expectations unrealistically, or make promises we cannot keep but we will investigate what you tell us thoroughly. Speaking out means that we have a chance to safeguard other children we may not be aware of, as offenders of child sexual abuse will often maintain an interest in abusing children throughout their life. By coming forward no-one will criticise you for not speaking out before now, but we will then be able to consider what risks that abuser might pose to children they have access to today in their family life, in their jobs, or in their community.”
Family Matters accepts referrals of any age or gender. Anyone in need of support can contact them on 01474537392 or visit their website at familymattersuk.org.