A NEW scheme has been launched to reach out to college and university students who’ve been sexually abused so they don’t suffer in silence throughout their lives.

According to Stepping Stones North Wales, survivors all too often didn’t feel able to seek help because they felt “guilt and shame” even though they were completely blameless.

In many cases their lives were totally ruined because they bottled up the trauma for decades without being able to tell anyone.

According to Berni Durham-Jones, the charity’s Director of Services, they have received calls from people in their 70s and 80s who were abused when they were children.

The trigger was often being diagnosed with a terminal illness, prompting them to come forward because they needed to share their story with at least one person before they passed away.

On the plus side, said Mrs Durham-Jones, survivors can get their lives back on track though counselling and support, enabling them to have a bright future rather than endure a lifetime of misery.

Stepping Stones North Wales, founded in 1984, provides support to adults from across the region who have been victims of sexual abuse when they were children.

Their work has now been given a massive boost by the new North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner, Andy Dunbobbin.

They are getting an extra £154,000 from Mr Dunbobbin who is a keen and long-standing campaigner against all forms of abuse.

It’s part of a £1.3 million package of funding secured by him which will be shared among a number of North Wales organisations.

Other recipients include Domestic Abuse Safety Unit North Wales, the Sexual Abuse Recovery Centre (SARC), the Rape and Sexual Abuse Support Centre (RASASC) North Wales and Gorwel.

In the case of Stepping Stones North Wales, it means they will be able to recruit two additional Independent Sexual Violence Advisors (ISVAS).

As a result, they will be launching two new projects, including the one to provide a  counselling service for college and university students aged 16 or over across North Wales.

The other one is being organised in conjunction with RASASC and will provide additional practical support for survivors, including those who want to report the abuse to the police.

It’s hoped that the scheme to help students who’ve been abused will give them the emotional and practical support of where to seek help.

According to Berni Durham-Jones, the scale and nature of child sexual abuse was “absolutely shocking”.

She pointed to a report published by the CSA Centre (Centre of expertise on child sexual abuse) in June of this year that estimated that 15 per cent of girls and young women in England and Wales had experienced some form of sexual abuse while the same applied to five per cent of boys and young men.

Mrs Durham-Jones said: “Child sexual abuse is obviously a devastating topic for people and at the moment there are about 500,000 children who are suffering from CSA in the UK.

“We were aware that there were a lot of youngsters and especially in colleges and universities that need support. 

“The funding from the North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner will enable us to be able to provide counselling and an Independent Sexual Violence Advisor (ISVA) to provide them with additional support for a host of issues.

“For example, if they’re struggling with their college work, the ISVA would be able to be a liaison between the tutor and the student. 

“It’s very difficult for people who have suffered to take the next step and tell somebody about it and sometimes people suffer in silence for many years.

“We have people in their 70s and 80s who phone us and have said ‘I wish I’d made this phone call many years ago’ but it’s so difficult to pick up that phone and say that.

“The way young people are wired emotionally means that they cannot always seek help immediately, but the aim of this project is to help them reach out sooner rather than later, perhaps in their 20s instead of bottling it all up for many years.

“Sharing the burden can dramatically change the course of a person’s life because you’re not living with that shame and that guilt any longer. 

“It’s that process of understanding it’s not your fault and allowing yourself to believe that and working through that using appropriate coping strategies, then you’ll be able to actually have a fulfilled life going forward.

“We’ve had lots of people that have said ‘you’ve saved my life because I wasn’t able to function properly but now I’ve been able to work through it and I understand it and I know that I’m not to blame’.

“That benefit will carry on through the generations then. By improving the life of an individual who’s suffered abuse, you’re also improving the lives of their children and their children’s children.

“We are incredibly grateful to Andy Dunbobbin who we know is passionate about tackling abuse in all its forms. The fact that he is standing shoulder to shoulder with us sends out a really powerful message.”

Mr Dunbobbin said: “Sexual abuse is a serious crime that has long-lasting consequences for victims, and this is why tackling this scourge is one of my highest priorities.

“I am pleased to be able to support the vital work being done by Stepping Stones North Wales and the other organisations that are working with survivors of abuse to help them achieve a better future for themselves and their families.”

Anybody in North Wales who needs support should ring Stepping Stones North Wales on 01978  352717 or visit the  website at www.steppingstonesnorthwales.co.uk