Demand grows for Rape Crisis Centre
An Invercargill service providing help for "survivors" of rape and sexual violence is bursting at the seams.
Southland Rape and Abuse Support Centre manager Susana Lepoamo said demand for services was continuing to rise.
Much-needed extensions and maintenance work were being completed at the modest centre in Nelson St yesterday thanks to a Lottery grant and the team from Southern Institute of Technology carpentry course.
However, the centre could occupy a much larger space, Lepoamo said. "We could easily have two houses next to each other to accommodate the people needing help and to house the services the centre offers."
Her comments come in the wake of police figures showing that, while reported crime rates are dropping in Southland and the rest of the Southern Police district, reported sexual assaults are on the rise.
Figures released by police last week show reported sexual assaults in Southland rose from 71 in 2012 to 87 in 2013. In the Southern District, the number of reported sexual assaults jumped from 164 in 2012 to 246 last year.
Police say the rise is because more people are reporting sexual assaults and not necessarily because there are more cases.
Lepoamo agreed and said a lot more people were accessing the centre voluntarily and it was getting many more referrals from police.
"I think survivors of sexual assault are more confident in accessing services like ours and engaging police. I don't think there is necessarily an increase of sexual assaults themselves," she said. "There is also more support and understanding from within the broader community. I expect an increase in reported sexual offences in future."
There was still only a very small percentage of people who had survived sexual assaults coming forward, Lepoamo said.
While there was growing confidence from sexual assault victims to seek out support and start the recovery process, it was a different story around survivors and the justice system, Lepoamo said.
Sexual offenders were still getting away with it, she said. About 90 per cent of sexual offences went unreported. Of those that were, very few actually went to court, and of those that did, even fewer resulted in convictions.
Southern District commander Superintendent Andrew Coster said police were dealing with more people reporting historical cases of sexual assault. "Increased trust and confidence in police may be a factor with victims feeling more able to report to police."
Police took all complaints of sexual crime seriously. "It doesn't matter if it happened yesterday, last week, last year or a decade ago," Coster said.
Often sexual assault cases were complex and protracted to investigate, he said.
Sexual assault could happen to anyone regardless of gender, age or personal circumstances - nobody asks to be a victim of sexual violence, he said. "Sexual assault is a community issue and we all have a responsibility to prevent sexual assaults and the harm that occurs as a result."
Southern District (Southland, Dunedin and Otago Rural)
The Southland Times