Two men who were victims of sexual abuse as children are encouraging others to speak up and seek help as Norfolk Police supports a week-long national awareness campaign.

We want to break down barriers for victims of sexual abuse and violence by shining a light on the stories of those who are survivors as part of Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence Awareness Week which takes place this week from today (February 3) to Sunday February 9. Organisations across Norfolk will be raising awareness of the issue and where to seek help under #itsnotok.

Both men received help from the Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC), known as the Harbour Centre, to aid their recoveries and hope their journeys can inspire others to speak up and seek help.

We know many victims can feel ashamed or embarrassed about what happened to them and this can be a barrier to them coming forward.

Nigel, who is in his 60s, was sexually abused as a child and carried shame with him for many years. He spoke to the Harbour Centre years after the abuse took place when he found it was having a profound impact on his life.

‘‘It took me many years to speak out about what happened, I had carried it around with me and it had an impact on my confidence and mental health. When I came to the Harbour Centre, they were fantastic and have helped me deal with what happened and start to move forward with my life. I would encourage anyone who has experienced sexual abuse or violence to seek help.’’

Scott, now in his 40s, experienced issues with addiction and spent time in prison before he found the courage to speak about the abuse that happened to him as a child.

‘‘I feel it’s well worth coming forward, it’s definitely been a positive thing. It felt a bit daunting at the time but the Harbour Centre were really good with me.’’

The centre, which is jointly funded by Norfolk Police and NHS England, have trained professionals offering round the clock support regardless of gender, race, sexuality, religion, age, disability or background or when the abuse occurred.

Norfolk has seen an increase in reports of sexual offences including rape, for both men and women. There were 2,009 reports of sexual offences, including rape, against women in 2018, increasing to 2,174 in 2019 and for men the figure has also risen from 347 in 2018 to 413 in 2019. This reflects the picture across the country over the last five years, alongside greater awareness and high-profile cases which highlight the issue.

Detective Superintendent Andy Coller, head of safeguarding at Norfolk Constabulary, said: “We know sexual abuse and violence can leave a trail of devastation on the lives of those affected. We are raising awareness around the services we offer in Norfolk as part of Sexual Abuse & Sexual Violence Awareness Week. We are hoping to encourage any victims and survivors to come forward, in particular we are looking to encourage boys and men to seek help. We want to address some of the barriers that prevent them from speaking out and getting support, such as men being seen as weak for talking about their emotions when withholding them can take a huge mental toll.

“We also know that there are many reasons why people feel they cannot come forward and get help, ranging from embarrassment to shame and blaming themselves when they are not responsible. Calling the police is not the only place you can go to get help; the SARC offers a safe place where you can speak up in a comfortable environment while your information is kept confidential.”

The Harbour Centre offers safe surroundings to speak about your experiences with supportive professionals. They can also offer medical examinations without police involvement following a recent rape or sexual assault.

Crisis workers at the SARC can provide immediate support and advice and respond to a 24/7 helpline. ISVAs (Independent Sexual Violence Advisors) can give emotional and practical support. They provide tailored support for individuals and can come to see you in your own home or a mutual safe place. ISVAs offer impartial information about options, offer support around any short or long-term needs and work on resilience and recovery. They can help with accessing health services and provide information on social care, housing or benefits.

Claire Scholes, SARC Manager, said: “Awareness Week is the perfect opportunity to remind people about the services offered by the SARC and the options available to them. We offer, free independent and confidential services for those living in Norfolk, whether the abuse happened recently or in the past and whether the person coming forward chooses to support a police investigation or not.

“We can provide support for the client, whatever their needs. We do not focus on forgetting about their experiences but on supporting the journey to recovery and moving forward. We are very grateful that Nigel and Scott have agreed to speak about their experiences and how they are working through them. We know shame can stop people coming forward for support and hope their voices being heard will help others.”

Norfolk’s Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) Lorne Green, added: “It’s important that survivors of sexual abuse and sexual violence know that, once they take that monumental step to speak up and reach out for help, the support they need will be there. We owe it to them to ensure that is the case, and I am proud to be able to say that Norfolk is graced with excellent support services like the SARC. The experiences of these two survivors are testament to the difference the right support can make in helping survivors regain the confidence, dignity and self-esteem that others have sought to take from them.”

If you would like to speak to someone in confidence about sexual abuse or violence you can contact Norfolk Police on 101 or the Harbour
Centre on 01603 276381 or email contact@theharbourcentre.co.uk

You can also ask a professional to refer you to our service. This may be your GP, support worker, school, college, university, social worker etc. Once we have received their referral we will contact you to discuss what support we can offer you.

For further information about the Harbour Centre, please look here: https://www.theharbourcentre.co.uk/

The Police will be using Norfolk Constabulary’s social media accounts and website to raise awareness this week under the #itsnotok