Nick Thomas-Symonds, the Member of Parliament for Torfaen, today recognised local safeguarding organisations tackling sexual abuse in a statement marking Sexual Violence Awareness Week 2021. Statistics show that a quarter of women and one in six men have experienced some form of sexual violence at least once.
However, these numbers are likely an underestimate because sexual violence is difficult to spot and can leave victims struggling with feelings of shame, preventing them from coming forward. Sexual Violence Awareness Week encourages communities to talk about sexual abuse to improve understanding of the signs and to help break the silence surrounding it.
Common signs of sexual abuse in children include social withdrawal or hypersexualised behaviour, while adult victims may demonstrate anxiety and fear around their abuser or seek to reduce confrontation.
According to charities, sexual violence has tragically increased during the COVID-19 crisis, with national lockdowns compounding the isolation of victims. The charity Rape Crisis reported that its Crisis Centres across England and Wales handled 194,881 online and telephone helpline contacts in 2019-20, a 5% increase compared to 2018-19. Social workers and other safeguarding professionals have provided uninterrupted support to victims despite these pressures, efforts Nick Thomas-Symonds MP praised as “heroic”.
The Torfaen MP has made tackling sexual violence a top priority throughout his time in Parliament. Between 2016 and 2020, when figures consistently showed conviction rates for rape near or below 2%, as Shadow Solicitor-General he pressured the UK Government to do more to stop victims of rape and sexual assault being failed.
At the beginning of the pandemic, in what was Mr Thomas-Symonds MP’s first act as Shadow Home Secretary, he called on the UK Government to provide an additional £76 million to address the domestic abuse crisis, and in December, during the United Nation’s 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, the Torfaen MP visited Cyfannol Women’s Aid to discuss their work providing services and support to people who have experienced any form of violence against women.
Commenting, Nick Thomas-Symonds MP said:
“As Shadow Home Secretary, one of my top priorities is addressing sexual abuse, a crime that ruins thousands of lives each year.
“This crime takes place in the shadows. But research shows that if we are able to spot the signs of this abuse, and if we have the courage to report it, victims can be protected. Sexual Violence Awareness Week is an opportunity for us all to do just that.
“Lockdowns have undoubtedly made detection harder. Tragically, we also know from what charities are telling us that there are many more victims this year. Faced with these additional pressures and amidst the health emergency, social workers, safeguarding organisations and support charities, including Cyfannol Women’s Aid here in Torfaen, have worked magnificently to keep victims safe. I will never forget their heroic efforts.
“Together we must break the silence that surrounds sexual violence. This is our responsibility to the victims of this dreadful abuse.”