THE number of sexual abuse survivors seeking help in Oxfordshire has soared in the past year.

Calls to the Oxfordshire Sexual Abuse & Rape Crisis Centre (OSARCC) helpline rose 28 per cent in 12 months, while counselling provision doubled. 

However, the centre – which is now aiming to expand its services – says many survivors are still having to wait months to get the support they need. 

Chief executive Lisa Ward explained: "Year on year, OSARCC sees an increase in the number of individuals using our service. 

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“The increase in 2018-19 shows there is a massive need for specialist support services, and with more survivors waiting between six to nine months to access support it's really important that we continue to expand the services we provide in order to be able to meet this demand.”

Banbury Cake:
Lisa Ward (left) when OSARCC stepped up its support to young girls and women in October. Picture: Ed Nix

Speaking as the organisation launched its '40 for 40’ fundraising appeal in its 40th anniversary year, as part of its ‘rise up’ campaign, services manager Sarah Totterdell added: "The Me Too movement has raised awareness of sexual violence and its impacts, and more survivors are coming forward than ever before.

“We cannot meet rising demand, so we are looking for fundraising support through our #40for40 campaign to help us to be there for everyone". 

The centre, which keeps its location private, is aiming to raise £40,000 to expand and support its services, including new drop in and text services it launched last year.

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One helpline user, who wanted to remain anonymous, said: "The service has kept me positive... When someone tells you they believe you and that you don't deserve it, you believe it, even if just for that one hour per week. 

“It's nice to hear, even if that feeling doesn't last. I can be a negative person – my own worst enemy. The helpline helps for that hour, even if after the phone call the negative thoughts come back."

A survivor who received counselling, and also wanted to remain anonymous, added: "It has enabled me to put things 'out' and verbalise what has happened to me – the impact it has had on my life, and now how to move forward and look to the future. A lifetime of abuse has now stopped."

In October, police in the Thames Valley said there had been a 15 per cent increase in reports of sexual offences in 12 months.

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OSARCC, which expanded its support for women and girls aged 14 to 18 in the same month, is now aiming to widen its existing services across the county to ‘better meet localised demand’. 

It is also aiming to improves services to those it says it currently ‘under serves’, including men, older adults, the LGBT+ community, and those from BAMER (Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic and Refugee) backgrounds.

It provides a range of support services to women and girls aged 14+, including counselling and group work, telephone, email and text support, advocacy, and ‘one-to-one empowerment work’. 

The organisation also provides training to professionals and works in schools to raise awareness about consent and healthy relationships, reaching more than 2,500 young people in the last year.

Another anonymous survivor said: “What happened to me changed and fractured my life to the point that I spiralled out of control and was a mess. 

"With OSARCC’s help and support I was finally able to face my demons and start the process of healing that had been denied to me when I was on my own."

CEO Ms Ward added: “Sexual violence has varied and lasting consequence for those who experience it, often leaving survivors with a range of complex emotions and impacting on many aspects of an individual’s life. 

Banbury Cake:

Lisa Ward in 2014 with a domestic abuse survivor. Picture: Damian Halliwell

“Whilst we’re reaching more survivors than ever before, we face increasing demand on our service which we are struggling to meet, meaning survivors have to wait much longer than we’d like to access support."

For more details of the campaign, visit osarcc.org.uk/40for40