‘Shift of mindset’ needed on abuse

  • Laurie Shiell-Smith, executive director at the Centre Against Abuse (File photograph).

    Laurie Shiell-Smith, executive director at the Centre Against Abuse (File photograph).

A major shift in mindset is needed to help encourage more victims of sexual assault to report incidents, the leader of a charity said yesterday.

Laurie Shiell-Smith, the executive director of the Centre Against Abuse, explained survivors were often afraid to speak out about their experiences as they feared being blamed.

Mrs Shiell-Smith said: “Especially when it comes to sexual assault, some of the survivors are concerned that ‘I was drunk’ or ‘I let the person in to my house’ or ‘I went with the person’.

“What they have to remember is that if you were drunk, you could not consent.You going to a person’s house is not your consent for them to sexually assault you.

“Consent is a verbal ‘yes’.

“The absence of a ‘no’ is not a ‘yes’.”

She added: “I think that’s a genuine fear, that they will be judged.

“There definitely needs to be a societal change in mindset, because what we do is we victim blame and victim shame.

“We put the onus of the sexual assault on the victim, the onus needs to be placed on the perpetrator.”

She was speaking as the centre, set up to provide crisis support services to adults of both sexes who have suffered domestic abuse and sexual assault, marked its 40th anniversary

The CAA celebrated 40 years of service after it became a registered charity in June, 1979 as the Physical Abuse Centre.

In addition to offering support services, the organisation said it worked to educate the public “by providing building blocks for healthy relationships”.

Mrs Shiell-Smith said: “We want everyone to understand the services we provide for male and female adult survivors of domestic abuse and sexual assault.

“CAA offers immediate intervention and support, and through our counselling service, court advocacy and education, we empower people to have zero tolerance for domestic abuse and sexual assault.

“For domestic abuse and sexual assault adult survivors, our confidential 24-hour hotline connects callers directly with a trained worker who can immediately offer counselling and provide next step advice.”

Mrs Shiell-Smith added: “From August 2018 to August 2019, CAA helped 101 hotline crisis callers, assisted with maintaining the safety of 238 walk-ins and responded to and supported 11 sexual assault survivors through the Sexual Assault Response Team.

“Sart is a community-based team that co-ordinates the response of survivors of sexual assaults.”

Mrs Shiell-Smith said court work had increased over the years.

She added that included assistance with Domestic Violence Protection Orders and summary offence letters.

She said: “CAA also provides support to survivors of historical sexual assaults, through educating them on their rights, assisting them with navigating the judicial system, and counselling support.”

Lorna Dixon-Marable, a co-chairman of the charity, added: “In Bermuda, one in three women and approximately one in six men will be affected by domestic abuse and sexual assault.

She said: “Right now, CAA is the only non-governmental organisation that provides services for adult domestic abuse and sexual assault survivors in Bermuda.

“CAA operates from a $25,000 monthly budget to support residents and visitors of our island.

“Sadly, like many other charities, CAA has been under serious financial hardship due to lack of sponsorship.

“Without donations to our charity we will not be able to sustain our vital services, which would leave a gaping hole in our community.”

For more information or to make a donation, visit www.centreagainstabuse.bm

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Published Oct 18, 2019 at 9:43 am (Updated Oct 18, 2019 at 4:07 pm)

‘Shift of mindset’ needed on abuse

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