FEMALE survivors of rape and sexual violence have someone to turn to thanks to a service expanding across Somerset.

The Somerset and Avon Rape and Sexual Abuse Support launched in Taunton on Friday.

An average of 60 women are raped or sexually assaulted in Somerset and Avon each week, but only eight – 13% – report the crime.

SARSAS aims to remove victims’ fears that they won’t be believed or feel they have no-one to talk to.

The organisation is working with Police and Crime Commissioner Sue Mounstevens, and Somerset County Council, to raise awareness of rape myths through a countywide campaign called ‘This is not an excuse to rape me’.

Ms Mountstevens and Dr Heather Flowe, a lecturer in the School of Psychology at the University of Leicester, gave a talk on the issues and taboos surrounding rape.

Dr Flowe, who has researched issues surrounding alcohol and sexual assault, said: “There are still so many myths surrounding rape, including that victims are themselves to blame because of what they were wearing or because they’d been drinking, but the fact is that they’re NEVER to blame.

“Around 2.5% of females and 0.4% of males in the UK are sexual victims.

“Only one out of ten cases is reported to the police, and 40% of people who are raped or experience sexual assault will tell no-one at all.

“There should be more education surrounding rape for younger people and enforcing the fact that a woman doesn’t necessarily have to say ‘no’ – there are other things that show she doesn’t consent.”

There is now a hub for women to go to in Taunton for one-to-one advice and support, as well as a phone hotline and email support.

Ms Mountstevens explained the work the police were doing alongside SARSAS.

She said: “We’re grateful to the Ministry of Justice for this funding, which has enabled us to extend the service across Somerset and Avon.

“This is a subject I’m passionate about.

“I think in the past there have been issues for victims going to the police who may have felt like they weren’t listened to, perhaps, but now we have specialist support and people trained specifically to help, as well as Bluestone.

“So often when we see stories reported in the papers, the woman are pictured wearing revealing clothing or lying in the gutter – it makes it seem like it’s their fault.

“We should be picturing the perpetrators.

“It’s time to stop shifting the blame – you don’t go up to someone and say ‘well, you deserve to have been burgled’, so we need to stop that kind of attitude with rape.

“What’s important is that we make sure everyone gets the help they need, and that’s why I want to raise awareness.”

Over the next year, ‘spokes’, offering a place for people to get face-to-face counselling in a temporary room – will be set up in Bridgwater, Burnham and Minehead.

It is aimed at providing support across a wider area, but people are welcome to use existing ‘spokes’ and the hub in Taunton if they can get there easily.

Rowan Miller, SARSAS director, said it was important to extend services to rural areas.

She said: “Rape’s still a huge taboo, and it can be more so in rural areas because often the communities are smaller, so telling someone can be harder for them.

“It’s not our job to get women to report their rape to the police, but I’m hoping we’ll see more women feeling able to, and that more will feel able to come forward and speak to us.

“Just knowing someone’s there for you on the other end of an email or phone call, or face to face, can bring such relief to them.”

SARSAS provides a confidential five-day-a-week helpline, including three evenings, one-to-one support from six locations, and specialist counselling in Bath, North Somerset, South Gloucestershire and Somerset.

You can call the phone hotline on 0808 801 0456 or receive email support at support@sarsas. org.uk