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ARCH CEO Nicky Harkin- Teesside Gazette Column 22/02/20

Nicky Harkin, Chief Executive of ARCH North East talks about Sexual Violence Awareness Week in this week’s Teesside Gazette. Guest column in partnership with My Sisters Place.

Firstly, a thank you to My Sisters Place for sharing this platform with us to reflect on this year’s sexual violence awareness week. A national campaign using #itsnotok the week is designed to shine light on conversations around rape and sexual violence bringing them out of the shadows, where they so often lurk and into the spotlight.

At ARCH we used the opportunity to make ourselves visible, letting people know about our service and how they can access free and confidential support, no matter their age, gender or when the experience took place. This year we turned fountains green, spoke on local radio, held stalls, delivered training and generally got ourselves and our message out across Teesside.

At a time when we are seemingly more aware than ever about these crimes thanks to increased media coverage, high profile cases and campaigns, that garner the support of many A-list celebs, you could ask why bother?

Well, in a nutshell because despite all of this more still needs to be done to understand the scale of the issue and let people know that it is ok to ask for help. Nationally 1 in 5 women and 4% of men since the age of 16 are estimated to have experienced some form of sexual abuse. On Teesside this equates to around 45,587 people without taking account of levels of childhood sexual abuse, simply staggering!

Not everyone will want to report to the police, not everyone will want something doing about their experience, we understand this. We also know that unless you or someone you know has been affected it can be hard to comprehend the impact and the harm that rape and sexual abuse causes. Shame plays its part, blame joins in and misplaced feelings of guilt can add to that toxic mix. Speaking out, sharing the burden can be one of the most important first steps to turning the shame into self-esteem, blame into acceptance and putting the guilt firmly where it belongs, with the perpetrator. That’s why awareness is so important and that’s why we will continue to be here year-round when people are ready to talk to us, with a clear promise to listen, to believe and to care.