The number of reported historic sexual assault cases in Dorset increased by 88% between 2016 and 2017.
These offences had taken place between 1982 and 2004 and many of them involved young girls.
Psychologist Lynn Suter from The Life Centre, an organisation supporting victims of sexual assault, says one reason why these cases have only been reported now may be the fact that the victims were young when the offences took place and didn’t know how to react.
She said: “I think they will have been made to feel shame as the perpetrator will have told them not to tell, that others would not understand. Also, if they told one person and were not believed or told not to tell lies or that they were dirty, that would have stopped them from telling anyone else.
“There would have been a lot of, ‘Oh, it happened a long time ago, get over it’ type responses as people did not understand about the impact that child sexual abuse can cause. However, after the Jimmy Savile allegations our phone calls for referrals and information went up by 70%.
“The #MeToo campaign and all that is happening in Hollywood will also have contributed. People were often not believed when they reported [a sexual assault]. As it is now being spoken of more widely, people feel that they are more likely to be believed. For me the issue is that we are still concentrating on abuse from outside the family and there is a huge amount of people who were, and still are, being abused within their families.”
In total, in the Dorset area there were 49 reports of unsolved serious sexual assault offences committed upon females between 2016 and 2017. 26 of those were upon a girl aged 13 or under, 9 of those being rape.
Jamie Harms from HAVOCA agrees that fear can play a big part when it comes to reporting a sexual assault, especially at a young age. “Guilt and shame as well as fear of the abuser – combine these with emotional immaturity and it’s easy to see why children don’t tell. As children, the fear causes some pretty strong coping mechanisms to cement themselves in the psyche of the survivor, and these stay with the survivor into adulthood. Some of these coping mechanisms are useful, but become less so later in life. This is one of the main reasons why adult survivors of childhood abuse can have so many issues.”
He says the key is to let these people know that they are not alone. “Let the survivors know that everything they feel, no matter how devastating, is actually perfectly normal. Publicity of big cases and high profile survivors coming forward provides survivors with the encouragement to come forward and seek help.
“Technology has also made it easier for people to make the first step. Social media, connectivity and different websites all provide a medium that is easier to instigate the first step. They also readily provide the direction and support survivors need.”