As part of Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence Awareness Week, which begins today, (Monday 7 February) the Police Service of Northern Ireland is highlighting the support that is available to victims and myth-busting some common misconceptions that can stop people from coming forward to report.
Sexual offences reporting has been steadily increasing over the past five years, with 3,864 incidents reported in 2021, an increase of 16% from the previous year. Police have in part attributed this to more victim’s having the confidence to come forward.
Detective Chief Inspector Siobhan Ennis said: “The national theme of this week has been ‘the silence surrounding abuse must be broken.’
“As a Police Service we couldn’t agree more with this statement and even more people in Northern Ireland than ever before are taking that incredibly brave step to come forward and report.
“As a society, we must continue to dispel harmful myths and move away from a victim blaming culture.
“This week we are asking the public to take a stand with us and say – it is not ok. The perpetrators of these crimes are only ever the ones at fault.”
The service is also taking the opportunity to raise awareness of The Rowan, a specialist regional facility jointly funded by the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS) and the Police Service of Northern Ireland.
Managed and run by the Northern Trust, it provides a range of services for anyone who has experienced sexual assault or rape.
Service Manager for The Rowan, Claire Galloway, commented: “We would echo the message from the Police and strongly encourage anyone who has experienced sexual abuse to come forward and seek help. The Rowan is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year for all victims, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, ability or sexual orientation, who have experienced sexual assault, whether recently or in the past.”
Last year the centre supported 620 people, 60% of whom were referred by the Police.
Police/self-referrals who attend The Rowan are offered a forensic medical examination by a specially trained doctor.
Self-referrals who decide they may later wish to report to the police can do so. Forensic evidence can be stored for up to two years.
Last year, 325 forensic medical examinations were carried out, including 53 on children aged 13 years or younger.
Claire continued: “At the Rowan we understand the devastation sexual violence can have on the lives of individuals and families. The Rowan is there for each and every person affected and will work at their pace, with their wishes at the forefront to ensure they receive the best care possible and whatever support may be required to rebuild their lives.”
The Rowan recently introduced an advocate service, ASSIST NI, funded by the Department of Justice and the Police Service of Northern Ireland to provide guidance and support to victims throughout the criminal justice process.
Detective Chief Inspector Ennis added: “The Rowan is a vital asset in support for victims and evidence gathering.
“We know that one of the main obstacles facing those coming forward is the fear of not being believed, but we will always listen and take victims seriously.
“We have specially trained Detectives within our Public Protection Branch who can help you. You don’t have to come to a Police Station either, we can come to wherever you feel comfortable.
“Please don’t feel you have to suffer in silence.”
If you are the victim of sexual assault, contact police on 101 or dial 999 in an emergency.
You can also access treatment, support and advice from The Rowan Sexual Assault Referral Centre by calling The Rowan 24 hour Freephone Helpline on 0800 389 4424.
Further information on the services provided can be found on The Rowan website at www.therowan.net.