If you or someone you know has experienced sexual assault, please seek help with a qualified counsellor or by calling 1800 RESPECT.
There are 60 counsellors on a 24/7 roster. They are hunched over phones and answering calls from women all around the country. There is no script to follow and no time restrictions to meet.
The phones don’t stop ringing and the counsellors never, ever tell the woman on the end of the phone what to do. They are providing support and guidance in a crisis.
It’s the hub of 1800 RESPECT and the NSW Rape Crisis and Sexual Assault hotline. The service will receive more than 60,000 calls this year.
“We know that almost every time we pick up the phone we’re talking to a victim of sexual assault,” Executive Officer of Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia, the organisation running the counselling services, Karen Willis told Mamamia. “If the primary reason for her call isn’t sexual assault, it’s domestic violence. And, in cases of domestic violence, it’s likely she has been been forced into sex by her partner in the past.”
The 60,000 calls come from 28,000 individuals around the country.
“Many women call more than once,” Willis said.
But 28,000 is only a portion of the 100,000 women who are sexually assaulted in Australia every year.
Why are these women picking up the phone?
Victims are calling for help, but not from police.
“Around 20 per cent of the callers are ringing within the first seven days of being raped,” Willis said.
“These women are dealing with the direct impact of assault. They’re worried about pregnancy, STIs and they’re usually feeling out of control. They are trying to make sense of something that will never make sense. They are having trouble sleeping and eating and their life has been turned upside down.”
For 50 per cent of callers, it’s been between eight days and six months since they have been assaulted, Willis continued.
“These are the women who’ve decided to put it behind them. They’re not going to think about it and they’re trying to get on with things, but memories of violence keep flooding into their brain. They’re angry, jumpy, living in fear. A lot of women find they can’t concentrate as easily and they become frustrated with people for no reason.”
The remainder of women are calling after at least six months has passed.
“Something’s occurred that’s brought the whole thing back. Maybe it’s the anniversary of the assault; it could be a court appearance is approaching; it might be that her daughter is going on a first date and it’s bringing back bad memories,” Willis said.