Huge rise in number of rapes in Northern Ireland

There has been a 40% increase in the number of rapes reported in Northern Ireland over the past five years.

Less than one in ten cases resulted in a prosecution last year.

The figures have been highlighted as part of Sexual Violence and Sexual Abuse Awareness Week.

Speaking publicly for the first time, one survivor told UTV about how his life has been affected by what happened to him.

“I got in trouble with the police, I drank from an early age, anything that would take the attention away from ever having to speak or say those words ‘I was abused’,” Peter explained.

Peter - not his real name - broke his silence after 30 agonising years.

He only sought help after he attempted to take his own life.

“I had a plan for what I was going to do, I had notes written to my family, it was [planned] down to the hymns I was going to have in my church service at my funeral,” he said.

“Many, many nights it was ‘tonight’s the night’, there were voices one was saying yes, one was saying 'no think of your family, think of your children'.”

Sexual violence is widespread in Northern Ireland, it's increasing and it's under reported.

In 2015, there were almost 2,914 sexual assaults and last year that figure jumped to 3,160 - an increase of eight per cent.

Alarmingly there were 55 more incidents of rape last year compared to the previous year - a total of 810.

Detective Chief Superintendent George Clarke told UTV: “We’ve seen this calendar year an increase of eight per cent, and over the last five years an increase of slightly more than 40% and that’s a significant and substantial increase.

“Very few rapes occur in Northern Ireland where there has been no interaction between the victim and their attacker. In the vast majority of rapes, there is some form of acquaintance.”

Despite the number of reported rapes detection figures are low. Less than ten per cent (9.4%) resulted in prosecution.

“There are a number of challenges in investigating,” Det Ch Sup Clarke continued.

“First of all it will take place in private or secluded settings where there won’t be witnesses, there are also issues with the victim coming forward, the victim may not be sure they have been a victim of an attack and may not come forward for some time.”

Every year over 500 victims who have been sexually assaulted, begin their journey for justice at the Rowan, a purpose-built sexual assault referral centre in Antrim which is the only one of its kind in the UK.

Karen Douglas, practice manager commented: “Before the Rowan came about, if you wanted to report a crime of sexual violence you would have been taken to one of three police sites, and a police officer would have been in the room while the medical was happening.

“Now victims can self-refer if they wish and they can come and engage with the doctors and nurses here and have a medical examination. As adults you can choose whether you want to report to the police, you can have your forensic samples stored here for a period of up to seven years.”

While a majority of victims of sexual attack are women, Nexus, an organisation which offers counselling, says one in four of their survivors are men.

Cara Cash, from Nexus said: “For male victims, it’s even more difficult because society tells them they have to be strong, they should be able to defend themselves, they cant be too emotive, and its unhelpful for victims because they then feel, how can I admit that I feel guilty and ashamed and alone, how can I say that I was raped, abused or exploited?”

As Peter explains, opening up about his traumatic experience helped him.

“It just was a weight lifted off, and what I'd been carrying around for 30 years was now light as a feather, it was such a relief that you weren’t lugging around this secret anymore, this stigma,” he said.

“If you’re still holding onto that abuse, that person, even dead or alive still has power over you. So it’s a good way of reclaiming that and basically getting your life back.”