By Isabel Hayman-Brown
Female students have been warned to keep their wits about them after new figures revealed that one rape a week was reported in Kingston last year.
Students’ Union president Chris Dingle has alerted students to be “safe rather than sorry” after a total of 56 rapes were reported last year, a rise of 12 per cent year on year. In contrast, there were just 19 in 2008.
“Any kind of rise is concerning. Be aware and don’t take unnecessary risks,” Mr Dingle said. “Make sure you don’t walk home on your own late at night, stay in groups or get a licensed taxi.”
The increase is double the average rise across London boroughs, which comes as a shock to Kingston students, as the borough was twice ranked the safest in London.
Neighbouring Richmond, which is home to Kingston Bridge House halls of residence and many students living independently, has been subject to a shocking 79.2 per cent increase in reported rapes, rising from 24 to 43 in the past year.
“We have seen a consistent increase in the number of offences reported to police,” a spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Police said.
“We believe this rise in recorded crimes is partly due to an increase in victims coming forward to report rape and sexual assaults.”
The news is concerning for the 25,000-strong KU student population, the majority of whom live in Kingston and surrounding boroughs.
While reported rapes are up in Kingston, other reported sexual crimes are down 4.2 per cent, but this gives little comfort to Kingston students who are worried about the figures.
Psychology student Elise Madden, 22, talked to The River about fears for her safety after a friend and KU graduate was raped last year after a night out in the town centre.
“When you see the effect rape has on someone it’s horrific,” said the third year psychology student.“Something like that never goes away.
“You don’t expect it to happen in Kingston. I never used to second-guess my safety, but when something like rape happens on your doorstep where you live, work and go to uni, you can’t help but be shaken up.”
Kingston’s borough commander Martin Greenslade told the Kingston Guardian last year that an 11 per cent rise in other sexual offences was linked to late night drinking in Kingston bars and clubs.
“While the increase for Kingston is large and gives me cause for concern, what we are not seeing within these figures is a high level of stranger rapes,” Greenslade said. “Usually the victim knows the attacker in some form.”
The Sapphire unit in Kingston, run by the Met Police, specialises in investigating rape and sexual assault cases and has sparked concerns that the real figures could be well over 12 per cent.
“We understand that, at present, rape is an offence that is significantly under-reported,” a spokeswoman for Sapphire said. “We want victims to have the confidence that we are here for them, will believe them and will conduct our investigations professionally.”
KU student Dannielle Baker, 20, became a victim of a sex attack in Kingston last year, which left her scared and reluctant to come forward.
“I was attacked 200 yards from my house,” she said. “I heard running footsteps behind me and when I looked it was a man. He started to walk alongside me, asking me questions. Then all of a sudden he just grabbed me.
“I didn’t report it because I was worried the police would think I’d brought it on myself. You read stories of girls who are ashamed to report sex crimes and you don’t understand why, but I felt the same.”
“It really has affected me. It made me feel ashamed but I would urge girls to report it. I wish I had.”
She added: “The fact I didn’t put myself in any position of danger and it still happened to me has definitely made me more scared.”
These statistics come after The River reported an unresolved rape of a young woman in Kingston town centre last month.
To talk to someone in confidence call the Rape Crisis helpline: 0808 802 99 99.
More information on staying safe is available from the Sapphire unit website.