Many more reports of sexual violence, but still ‘tip of the iceberg

The number of reports of sexual violence at the Centre for Sexual Violence (CSG) has risen sharply: 4148 victims asked for help last year, some 28 percent more than the 3250 in the previous year.

According to the organization, the increase is due to the fact that brand awareness is growing, partly due to national campaigns. As a result, more and more people are finding their way to the centre. Yet these numbers are “just the tip of the iceberg” says Iva Bicanic, national coordinator of CSG. “Now, right now, someone is being raped. And it’s happening all the time. We know from international research that only a minority are reporting.”

Collaboration

CSG is an alliance of Victim Support, Police, Municipal Health Services (GGD) and Mental Health Services (GGD) to help victims of sexual assault and rape in particular. It focuses on victims of acute sexual violence, i.e. incidents that took place less than a week ago. Within that time much can be done for the victims, such as giving medication against HIV, pregnancy prevention and physical examination.

In 1888 of the reports it was a recent assault or rape. The victims immediately received medical care, psychological support and in almost half of the cases a trace investigation. Traces on the body, such as dna, hairs and sperm, were safeguarded as evidence.

Chat function

Also, almost 800 people sought anonymous contact via the chat function that has been in use since July. “You want people to make the switch to real physical contact so that they can use the medical care and trace research at the Center for Sexual Violence,” says Bicanic. “We’re now trying to figure out how to give them the courage and confidence to make that move.”

Lots of victims are ashamed and therefore silent about what happened, Bicanic sees. “60 to 70 percent of victims do nothing during a rape or assault, or cooperate. But the stereotypical image in movies is that people kick and punch, scream and run away. If you didn’t do that as a victim, you feel cowardly. Those old myths need to be dispelled.”

Shut up about it is harmful, she sees. “By avoiding and repressing the memory, for example by doing a lot of sports, working and using drugs or drink, people go to sleep badly. They become irritable and withdraw. As a result, they become isolated and end up with an anxiety disorder or depression. Half of the people who don’t ask for help after a rape get post-traumatic stress disorder after six months.”

“It is important that we make it clear to people, especially young people, that you should not keep walking around with that. They not only need care for the body, but also psychological help,” says Bicanic. “This is a life-giving experience, it helps if that is acknowledged. You can reassure someone, give advice, tell them that feelings are normal and give them the best care so they recover as quickly as possible and that experience doesn’t leave a scar.”

The Center for Sexual Violence can be reached 24 hours a day, 7 days a week via 0800-0188