Belfast Telegraph

Sex crimes at an all-time high in Northern Ireland, says Nexus NI boss

Numbers seeking counselling soar after high-profile abuse scandals, such as Jimmy Saville

By Ali Gordon

Demand for counselling services by victims of sex crimes has soared in the wake of recent scandals, the head of a local charity has revealed.

And the increased demands comes at a time when  sexual violence is at an all-time high in Northern Ireland.

Last year, 805 rapes were reported to the PSNI, a seven per cent rise from June 2014-15. There was also a 14 per cent rise in the number of alleged sexual offences reported and 10 per cent more child sex abuse cases.

The shocking statistics led to sexual abuse support agency Nexus providing 17,000 counselling sessions in 2016. “Our numbers are big and our waiting lists continue to grow,” Nexus NI’s chief executive, Cara Cash, told Sunday Life.

“Most of the clients we see are victims of child sexual abuse. Well over 60 per cent of those people were abused between the ages of 0-10, but we don’t see the majority of them until they are between the ages of 25 and 49.

“They are sitting for more than a decade, dealing with this abuse, during their teenage years, which are difficult enough now as it is.

“Victims often find it difficult to form relationships, so they don’t know who they can trust or what people’s reactions will be if they do tell them.”

Nexus haves seen a 22 per cent increase in referrals in the past three years in Northern Ireland. Despite the rise in service users, Nexus haves had no increase in government funding.

Speaking to Sunday Life at Nexus’ head office on Belfast’s University Street, Cara said: “The numbers are rising at an alarming rate, but we see it as a positive because it means people feel as though they can come forward. We’re seeing more male victims of sexual violence coming forward as well.

“It’s great people are coming forward, but we look at the statistics with an air of caution because we know there is gross under-reporting by victims. The figures may go up, but that means there are even more people who don’t come forward.”

Cara says stories such as the serial child abuse of twisted presenter Jimmy Saville and football child sex abuse scandals caused a spike in their referrals.

“We don’t really find trends in particular areas, but we do find that if there’s a local story then there will be a spike in referrals in that area,” she said.

Last October, footballer Ched Evans was found not guilty, following a retrial, of raping a 19-year-old woman at a hotel in 2011. He was initially found guilty in 2012 and served two-and-a-half years of a five-year prison sentence, before his conviction was quashed.

“Stories like the Ched Evans one don’t do much in the way of helping victims because they think people will ask about what they were wearing or were they drunk when they were sexually abused,” said Cara.

“At the end of the day, It doesn’t matter if you couldn’t fight someone off or you’d had a few drinks, you’re a victim of a crime and we have to change the conversation on that.”

As part of Sexual Violence and Abuse Awareness Week, which starts tomorrow, Nexus are launching their #BreakTheSilence campaign in a bid to help the growing number of local victims.

Cara said: “For victims of sexual violence, one of the biggest things is the feeling of isolation. Victims feel guilty and ashamedthat this has happened, so they don’t want to come forward.

“It’s also very difficult in a domestic setting for the person to say that their partner has raped them because they’ve had consensual sex before, but now their relationship has changed.

“So, as an organisation, our plea to them is to come forward, so that they can get the help they need because there are a lot of mental and physical side effects.

“Northern Ireland has a long way to go in changing the attitudes to sexual violence and we need to stand with victims,” said Cara.

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