Vigil held in Chichester for rape and sexual abuse survivors

A vigil held in Chichester heard from the survivor of childhood sexual abuse about how it impacted her life.

‘Sarah’ told those gathered at the Cross in Chichester about her experience and how therapy saved her.

She said: “It impacted me hugely. I was going to school, but all the abuse was going on. I need some form of control. I couldn’t control anything because I was being controlled by other people all the time.

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“I started to not eat, and I felt like a chunk of my identity had gone missing. I also cut myself and started self-harming. I had flashbacks every night and relived the experiences every single day. The flashbacks were the worst for me. But I managed to find some coping strategies through counselling.

High Sheriff James Whitmore at vigil in Chichester

“I knew this would be the end if I didn’t come forward. And I knew that I couldn’t carry on the life that I was living. One day I decided to ask for help and thought: “What’s the worst that could happen?” And I remember that just speaking about it. I am in a good place now thanks to the counselling I received at the Lifecentre.”

The event was organised by Lifecentre, a charity with offices in Chichester, Worthing, and Crawley, which supports those who have had an unwanted sexual experience - as part of ‘#WeCanTalk’.

The campaign’s aim is to encourage survivors to talk about their experiences and seek help, and to encourage others to be willing to listen.

The Mayor of Chichester, cllr John Hughes, Chief Inspector Nick Bowman, District Commander for Arun and Chichester also joined the vigil along with supporters and members of the public.

After hearing from ‘Sarah’ and the High Sheriff, the crowd walked to Priory Park where they took part in a six-minute silence which symbolizes the six women who are raped and sexually abused every day across Sussex.

Kathryn Slatter, CEO of Lifecentre said: “Six minutes will seem like a long time but imagine silently carrying around the trauma of rape or sexual abuse for a six-days, months, years or in some cases a lifetime.

“Many people tell us they fear they won’t be believed, and they talk about the shame they feel, even though what’s happened to them is not their fault. There are many barriers to people coming forward, but we believe survivors deserve to be heard and to get the help they need to begin the recovery process.”

James Whitmore, the High Sheriff of West Sussex, also addressed the crowd saying: "Ladies and gentlemen, I am very pleased to be here today supporting the incredibly important work Lifecentre does and thank you all for coming and thank you to Kathryn [Slatter] and your colleagues for inviting me and organising the event.

“Unfortunately, we are here because too many people are sexually abused. Sadly it continues, and for so many victims Lifecentre is their only hope towards some modicum of normality giving them support to rebuild their lives after dreadful experiences.

“One positive point about the society we live in today is the acceptability for people to speak out and seek help with it not having a negative impact on the individual. This was possibly not the case only a few years ago and has encompassed other areas, such as mental health. As they say ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’.

“Lifecentre have had a tremendous success rate helping people rebuild their lives by listening and advising. Sexual abuse sadly eclipses all ages but more and more cases are being reported than ever before, which in a way is a good thing as people are coming forward, and it is up to all of us responsible adults to hear each case sympathetically, carefully and with respect.

“Rape Crisis’s published abuse numbers are: one in five women; one in six children; and one in 20 men. This is shocking and why Lifecentre’s work is so current and important.

“Lifecentre covers the whole of West Sussex and their numbers for helping people are impressive; in 2021 they gave 4806 counselling sessions, supported 595 clients in person and gave support to 1514 people over the telephone. Now that’s pretty good and Kathryn and her team should be applauded. A few years ago I was sitting next to a friend at a lunch party who told me in great detail how her nephew was being abused at school. He had joined his secondary school only a month before and within a short time a much older pupil had taken advantage of him. He retreated into himself, dreaded going to school and was living a life of misery. Luckily he talked to his parents, whose mother told my friend, but unfortunately his parents felt if they approached the school their son would be singled out by his peers, and possibly the teaching staff, and have an even harder time. Basically, they did not trust the professionals - the teachers in this case - to deal with the matter in the correct way.

“When I found out which school the boy attended I was shocked to my core - I was a governor. On admitting this I was immediately sworn to secrecy and much of what I had been told was retracted. However, I could not let it rest and therefore the following morning I called the Head and relayed the story. The matter was dealt with very professionally and no-one ever knew I had reported the incident, his peers never knew he was a victim and the perpetrator (who I knew little about but picked up a clue) was found out and severely punished within the law.

"Whilst last year saw the highest number of reported rapes, surveys still show most victims of abuse do not report it as they are embarrassed, don’t think it will be resolved or cannot face the humiliation. A message to people who are experiencing or have experienced sexual abuse – please come forward, please trust Lifecentre and all the other professionals and please believe you will be treated with the utmost respect and dignity. It is, or was not, your fault.

“Nelson Mandela said; “Courage is not the absence of fear — it’s inspiring others to move beyond it.”

“I finish, where I started off, and applaud Lifecentre’s brilliant and much needed work in this very difficult and delicate area of support. Thank you.”

Lifecentre provides support and therapy to anyone, of any gender, who has had an unwanted sexual experience, whether in childhood or adult life.

Lifecentre has a freephone helpline on 0808 802 0808 and text helpline on 07717 989 022.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

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Lifecentre vigil: Picture gallery of event in Chichester