Hackney’s forthcoming rape crisis centre revealed

The nia project has been helping women and children in Hackney for 35 years

With the announcement that Hackney will finally be home to specialist centre supporting victims of rape in the borough, reporter Jasmine Coleman takes a look at how it will run and who will be helping them.

Many people still hold the misconception that women are most at risk of being attacked by a stranger in a dark alley at night – but rape takes place just as often at the hands of a husband, boyfriend or relative inside their own home.

Understanding this is what staff at the nia project have specialised in during their 35 years based in Hackney. And it is this why they will be running the borough’s new rape crisis centre, plans for which were announced last week.

The nia project has spent three decades as a rock for women and children who have undergone domestic violence, rape or sexual abuse by offering emotional support and practical advice.

It runs a helpline, enables them to escape family violence, and raises awareness of what a healthy, safe relationship really is.

“We believe in giving people the best support for the issues they deal with,” chief executive Karen Ingala Smith told the Gazette.

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“This doesn’t fit into little boxes.

“There is a misconception that women are raped by strangers in the streets at night.

“Rape goes on in marriage and relationships but they might not always be the people that access help.”

Rape crisis centres have been under-resourced in London for a long time. For years there has been just one centre in Croydon. But as in the New Year, women, men and children from seven east London boroughs who have undergone this horrific experience at any time in their lives will be able to get support and emotional help right here in Hackney Central.

A second centre is opening in Ilford.

Forty two people currently work for the project and it is recruiting counsellors to staff the new sites.

“It is brilliant we are involved in the new centres, we are really pleased,” said Karen.“The organisation has grown a lot over the years. We try to respond to new and emerging needs all the time.

“Hackney has got a very mobile population and there are different groups that are maybe coming into Britain for the first time, who may not know about services available and the law. We work quite a lot to engage with them to make sure they get equal access.”

The project currently has five refuges in Hackney, where families can share a normal house on a normal street.

“You wouldn’t know if you had just walked past a refuge,” said Karen.

She emphasised that the project was run by women for women - but that the centres would also be helping men by referring them specialist groups.

“If you look at the statistics of experiences of domestic violence, rape and sexual abuse, it is disproportionately women affected,” she said. “But we recognise that men who are victims of violence also need support.

“We won’t employ male counsellors ourselves, we will work with partner organisations. It is about treating people with respect and giving people access to the services they need.”

Recent cuts have threatened the future of this provision. But funding from the Mayor of London will be available to the new centres for the next two years.

They will initially be open for a maximum of 10 face-to-face counselling sessions a week. And an outreach worker will give advice to those who have experienced rape or sexual abuse.

The centres will not be linked to police investigations and victims will not need to have reported their assault to police to get help.

For more information go to www.niaproject.info or call the Domestic Violence Helpline on 0808 2000247.