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Rebecca Davison, Bericote’s Community Liaison Lead interviews Neil Henderson, CEO of Safeline. Bericote are corporate supporters of Safeline

Sexual abuse and rape is a subject not many feel comfortable openly discussing, yet it is so prevalent in our society. It is not linked to class, ethnicity, age, deprivation, gender, or sexuality – it knows no bounds, and anyone can be affected. I interview Neil Henderson, CEO of Safeline, a charity Bericote have partnered with for the last 6-years, to discuss the prevalence of sexual abuse, and how organisations like ours can help support charities like Safeline to better support the millions of people affected by sexual violence and abuse.

1 in 5 women (5.8m) and 1 in 6 men (4.6m) in the UK have experienced some type of sexual assault since the age of 16 and it is estimated 1 in 10 children in the UK have been sexually abused. To make matters worse, these statistics understate the true extent of the issue because only 1 in 6 victims ever disclose or report sexual violence crimes, for ‘fear of not being believed’, or feelings of ‘embarrassment’ and ‘humiliation’. It can happen to anyone, anywhere.  Safeline are a charity helping to prevent sexual abuse and provides free, specialist, tailored, non-time limited support, for anyone affected including friends and family.

Neil has been CEO of Safeline since 2014, starting on the board of trustees, having previously been with Royal Mail for 27-years in various Executive/non-Executive roles. “I always knew I wanted to do something that I cared about and inspired me, and Safeline touched on a subject that was very close and personal to me and I wanted to support it” he says.

Safeline have a difficult problem in gaining funding and support from local businesses due to the sensitivity of the subject. “It’s not something that leaders and businesses feel comfortable backing, it’s not because they don’t think it’s important, it’s because they simply feel it’s beyond their scope of knowledge.” Neil wants to educate people to enable more survivors to access support. Covid has also seen a stop to any kind of group fundraising and awareness events, making 2020-2021 the toughest years yet.

85% of victims will not report if they have been sexually abused or raped, and only 1.7% of 16% rapes are prosecuted in England and Wales. So why is it so under reported? This has a lot to do with ‘not being believed’ and the stigma of the subject. It is personal and not something people want to talk about. Safeline are working to get people talking, raising awareness to let people know it is not okay, it is not their fault and they have someone to talk to.

“The effects of sexual violence can be devastating and long-lasting, impacting not only the victim but also family and friends as well as the wider community”. Many of Safeline’s clients suffer from depression, PTSD, anxiety, isolation, eating disorders, drug and alcohol misuse, self-harm, and suicidal feelings. For example, 15% of all suicides and 40% of all youth homelessness are attributed to sexual violence. Without support, victims are 4-times more likely to be revictimized.

Safeline offer a variety of services including their male helpline and online service, counselling sessions, (face-to-face, telephone and online), art therapy and prevention services for children and their parents. And during lockdown they have managed to move most of their therapy sessions online. Getting support from the community is vital in supporting Safeline to continue to offer these services free of charge.

There is no limit to how many sessions you can have. “The problem with the system is people assume someone will feel cathartic once they’ve spoken to someone a couple of times to ‘get it off their chest’, but it can take years of support for someone to recover”.

Whilst some people may learn to cope with the abuse, there is still a pain. Neil talks of a woman who had received support from Safeline, “she was strong and resilient and has a successful career, but the emotional pain is still so bad that some days she can’t leave her bed.” This can be true for many even if the abuse happened 50 years ago.

As well as support for survivors, Safeline want to educate young people to help work on prevention. They have a dedicated team who work in schools to offer students a safe space and encourage them to speak up against things that are not right. They want them to know about consent and to know they can come forward and tell a responsible adult if something is wrong. Safeline also want to encourage parents to have open and healthy discussions about sexual abuse and be able to spot the signs.

Survivors often live with their abuse for an average of 25 years for women and 40 years for men before speaking out. Once someone makes the brave decision to take their predator to court, Safeline offer a service called ISVA (independent sexual violence advocates), who help every step of the way throughout the court process. “It can be really hard for someone to stand up in court and tell their story and we want to be there for them through this difficult time.”

Safeline not only want to educate young people and their parents, but business owners and other charities – no one deserves to be abused regardless of one’s social situation, class, ethnicity, or sexuality. Everyone deserves to be heard and everyone deserves to have their basic human rights respected. “If every business, public organisation and charity (regardless of where they specialise) can stand up and say ‘we are against sexual abuse, and we believe in you’, we would already be creating a much more open and safe environment, which could give your staff the confidence to access support knowing they wouldn’t be judged by those around them.”

If you want to find out how you can do more as an employer, please feel free to drop myself a message  and I can put you in touch with the fantastic Safeline team.

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