The day it was reported that George Pell had been found guilty of sexual abuse of children, calls to the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service, 1800RESPECT, surged by 30%.
“People in Australia were calling us to say they’d read about the verdict and they wanted to discuss their own experiences, or they were calling because they were worried about the impact of sexual assault on family or friends,” 1800RESPECT counsellor Clare* says.
Media reporting around sexual assault often prompts painful memories of peoples’ own experiences of abuse or that of a loved one, so it is common for calls to the service to increase in the days after high profile cases.
The experiences aren’t always recent.
“The majority of people who reach out for support for sexual assault are talking to the service about an incident that happened more than a year ago,” 1800RESPECT General Manager Nicole McMahon says.
The service is available at any time of the day or night. Calls are answered by qualified counsellors who work with callers to understand their needs, put their safety first, and provide them with counselling, information or details of a support service in the local area.
Medibank has delivered 1800RESPECT since the service began in 2010, with funding from the Australian Government. The national service is delivered with not-for-profit specialist counselling partners, safe steps, Women’s Safety Services SA and DV Connect, in support of the National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children.
Canberra Rape Crisis Centre CEO, and member of the 1800RESPECT National Sector Advisory Group, Chrystina Stanford said demand for the service has grown exponentially in recent years.
“In 2010 the service was receiving 20,000 calls a year and now they are receiving 20,000 a month, and meeting significant increases in demand on any particular day, as with the Pell case,” Stanford says. “We know that when people are aware that support is available and they feel confident that they will be listened to and believed, they are more likely to reach out for support. And this is so important for people who are experiencing the impacts of trauma.”
Promoting awareness of the existence of support services is critical. 1800RESPECT counsellor Clare describes her job as complex but also rewarding.
“We hear a lot of wonderful feedback including ‘1800RESPECT saved my life’ and ‘you’ve helped me to become the person I am now’. The feeling of knowing a caller has felt heard, understood and once again hopeful far outweighs challenges that come with this role,” she says.
*Counsellor’s name has been changed for privacy and confidentiality.
If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au.
In an emergency, call 000.