Rape Crisis in Stevenage - centre opens to tackle sexual abuse

A rape crisis centre has opened in Stevenage to help the rising numbers of women in the area coming forward as victims of sexual abuse.

Herts Women’s Centre based at The Hyde neighbourhood shops has reacted to the increasing numbers of victims contacting the centre with a successful application to become a Rape Crisis charity centre – one of only three in the county.

The move will help meet what centre director Vanessa Bednarz called an “unprecedented demand” for support, with five new domestic abuse cases coming in a week – often related to sexual violence.

“There’s a domestic violence issue in Stevenage and sexual violence and domestic violence are linked – that’s been proved,” Mrs Bednarz said.

“At the moment all there is for women in Stevenage is a two-hour helpline in Hatfield. We are open five days a week. We thought it would be a much quicker response – victims will be able to access support immediately.”


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She said the Jimmy Saville case has prompted many more women to come forward with sexual abuse claims – with Rape Crisis staff in the eastern region dealing with a 45 per cent increase.

“We don’t know the exact level of demand in Stevenage, but we think it will be quite high,” she added.

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Herts Police had 300 reports of domestic violence in Stevenage between April and Tuesday this week, while there were 57 sexual offences in the town in the six months to November, 19 of these were rapes.

Organisers are in talks with Stevenage Police and police and crime commissioner candidates, as well as community support group So Stevenage to create a domestic abuse taskforce in the town aimed at stamping out at the problem.

“At any one time we can have 100 women accessing our centre, and our courses are always full.”

But she added like other charities, the centre is “struggling massively” in straightened economic times.

“We recognised the need to set up this service, but funding issues mean we don’t know if we are going to be here in six months’ time. We are hoping to have a partnership with the police and funding will come through that.”

Stevenage Police safer neighbourhood Inspector Simon Tabert welcomed the initiative, adding: “Sexual offences are traumatic and can have long-term consequences. Any service which provides support to victims of these terrible offences is worthwhile and I look forward to future partnership working with this organisation.”

To contact the centre, call 01438 742742.

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