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As Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence Awareness Week gets under way today (Monday 6 February), the West Midlands Victims’ Commissioner has stressed that we need to stop normalising sexual abuse and end the culture of victim blaming.

She points to a worrying ‘normalisation of abuse’ that can prevent victims or witnesses from reporting crimes to police or support services, and reiterates that those who experience such abuse are never at fault.

This is highlighted by low reporting numbers seen across the UK.

Statistics from the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) for the years ending March 2017 and March 2020 combined showed that fewer than one in six victims (16%) had reported their sexual assault to the police.

The most common reasons given by those that told someone about the abuse, but did not report it to the police, were: embarrassment (40%), thinking the police could not help (38%) and thinking it would be humiliating (34%).

The low reporting numbers for sexual assault were more pronounced with younger victims. Just 10% of 16- to 19-year-olds reported the assault to the police, compared with 27% of 35- to 44-year-olds.

Not only do the majority of victims not report their abuse to the police, but many victims also choose not to report their abuse to friends, family or support services, in part because they perceive the actions of the abuser to be ‘normal’ – a result of generations of failure to tackle deep-rooted problems, including misogyny and ineffective responses to reported abuses.

Indeed, in 2021, the education regulator Ofsted concluded that sexual harassment has become ‘normalised’ among school-age children. They said that ‘students often do not see the point of reporting abuse and many teachers underestimate the scale of these problems.’

The West Midlands Victims’ Commissioner Nicky Brennan said: “So many victims of abuse tell me about the worries they have about talking to someone. That’s why we’re doing everything in our power to remove those stigmas and challenge those in positions of influence to change this victim-blaming culture. It has led to victims of abuse, and even witnesses to crimes, to thinking that certain behaviours are normal. These abuses are not normal, they’re not okay, and it is never the victims’ fault.

“While we’d always recommend reporting abuses to the police, there are also a range of services available across the region with specific expertise to help victims. Whatever you have experienced, you do not have to deal with it alone. Sexual abuse is not normal and it not something you should have to suffer with in silence. ”

West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner Simon Foster, said: “Sexual abuse and sexual violence must never be normalised. I would always urge a victim to talk to someone. This can be to the police, one of the services that help victims across the West Midlands or to family and friends.

“I am absolutely determined to put the rights and welfare of victims at the heart of everything we do.”

In December, the Police and Crime Commissioner launched a new website specifically for the West Midlands. This dedicated central hub provides advice and guidance for victims of abuse of any kind, directing them towards vital information and the support services available in their area. It will continue to be updated regularly with useful resources and further information about the No Excuse For Abuse campaigns to help people across the region to explore ways of engaging with the important work being done.

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