Bridgend, South Wales, UK – One in five women and 4% of men in England and Wales have experienced some type of sexual assault since the age of 16, according to estimations from the Crime Survey for England and Wales.
Take a minute to think about that harrowing statistic. That’s equivalent to 3.4 million female and 631,000 male victims.
But a lot of it goes unreported.
The latest estimates from the crime survey showed that in victims of sexual assault, aged 16 to 59, fewer than one in six females and fewer than one in five males reported it to the police. This means that the number of victims is actually a lot higher than estimated.
Because of a lack of understanding when it comes to victims speaking up about sexual assault and a lack of faith in the UK criminal justice system to properly punish the perpetrators, organizations like The Speak Up Space can help.
On its website, The Speak Up Space describes itself as a “safe, listening and signposting space for survivors of sexual violence, harassment and anything that correlates.”
Based in the UK, The Speak Up Space focuses on helping survivors access the support that they need while also providing educational, empowering and inclusive content. It offers a way for victims to speak up about their experiences and get the support they need.
Jack Simms, who is part of the support team at The Speak Up Space, spoke with Youth Journalism International about what people should be doing to combat sexual assault in the UK and better support victims.
“The sheer rate of sexual assault in the UK is something that’s become ever clearer to more and more people over the last few years,” said Simms, adding that this is perhaps clearer to men as “women have always understood.”
There may be a cultural factor as well, Simms suggested.
“I think that the United Kingdom’s national character – i.e the stiff upper lip, keeping calm and carrying on, ‘dark’ and biting banter and jokes – contributes to a sort of whitewashing of the extent of sexual assault in the country,” Simms added.
“It’s only by listening to people that we can see the true scale of sexual assault, something which a huge percentage of people – especially women – in the country has or will experience in their lives.”
Speaking about The Speak Up Space, Simms explained how the service users skew towards “women and non-binary people, usually but not exclusively under 30,” whose “experiences of sexual assault and harassment vary as much as the people do – from catcalling to physical assault.”
Simms also reported that “the reactions to assault range as much as the number of victims,” describing how reactions can often be “unexpected or contradictory.”
For example, Simms said, “For every survivor who shuts-off emotionally and distances themselves as a result of trauma, there’s another who becomes hyper-sexual, hyperactive, deliberately loud.”
It is clear that sexual assault is a prominent issue in the UK.
When asked about how society can change to make sexual assault less frequent, Simms argued that the government should “put more money into shelters so that domestic abuse victims – both men and women – are able to get out of the home that they share with the abuser.
“Given how much sexual assault happens to unhoused women, then providing safe shelters for all seems a sensible step to protecting people,” said Simms.
Simms offered advice for people who want to be supportive.
“Be patient, be kind, be ready to listen without judgement,” Simms said, “and never, ever blame the survivor for any element of their assault.”
Holly Hostettler-Davies is a Senior Reporter with Youth Journalism International. She wrote this story.
Chuying Huo is a Senior Reporter and Senior Illustrator with Youth Journalism International. She made the illustration.
This article is part of the No one is safe project about sexual assault around the world. It is being published in five parts of six article each on Mondays and Thursday, beginning Nov. 29, 2021. For links to the published project, click below.