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How to stay safe on your big night out.

Byline: SUSAN LEE

IT was the Saturday before Christmas and Julie* was enjoying a night out with workmates. After a few cocktails and a dance or two she headed to the toilet - never thinking that she might be in danger.

Thirty minutes later, a bouncer found the 28-year-old office worker on the floor under a stairwell. She had been grabbed, thrown to the floor, and raped.

What had started as a Christmas night out had turned into a nightmare, the consequences of which she lives with today.

Julie's is not an uncommon story to the staff at SAFE Place Merseyside, the region's dedicated adult sexual assault referral centre, based in the city centre.

Opened in September 2008, it provides a forensic medical examination and emotional and practical support for those who had been referred to the centre after suffering serious sexual attacks. To date more than 520 people have received this support having reported the attack to the police.

In September 2009, the centre also extended its services to those who wished to self-refer.

"Unfortunately Julie's case is just one of many we see each month, and that figure peaks at key times such as the run up to Christmas and New Year," explains manager Sue, who is employed by NHS Liverpool Community Health Trust.

"Events like Hallowe'en, Bonfire Night, the Mathew Street Festival and freshers' fayres, tend to coincide with a spike in the number of people coming through our doors.

"There are a lot more parties, a lot more alcohol being drunk, and a lot more vulnerable people falling victim to those looking for easy targets."

The figures back up Sue's claims as the number of people who saw doctors and crisis support workers at SAFE Place during the last few days of October and the first week of November was almost double the number for the whole month of June.

And it's not just women that are targeted.

Safe Place has supported both men and women spanning an age group that ranges from 13-70.

It is because of this sharp annual rise in figures that Sue is appealing to women to look after themselves and each other as the Christmas festivities get underway.

"Christmas is a particularly dangerous time for women, because they tend to let their hair down, and the predators know it. But there are measures we can take to ensure we stay safe."

. STAY with friends at all times: Don't go to the toilet or outside for a cigarette on your own, and, if you're driving rather than drinking, don't walk to your car alone.

. Don't go back for coffee: Many sexual assaults take place either in the offender's home or in the home of the person who has been attacked.. Don't accept drinks from strangers: Even if you've bought your drink yourself, alcoholic or soft, keep a close eye on it, as crowded places make it easier for them to be to spiked.

. Check your body language: Inevitably there are times when you will find yourself alone. Potential offenders will look for signs that you won't put up a fight, so walk upright, be alert, and keep looking around you so that any would-be attacker knows you have seen them.

. Don't accept lifts from strangers: Book a taxi from a firm you have used before instead.

. Pre-book your cab: The safest way to get home is to book in advance.

Most private hire companies offer a ring-back service, so you don't have to leave the party until you know your taxi is outside. Look for branding on the car doors, a licence plate at the rear, and the driver's ID. Once inside sit in the left hand side back seat so that you can see the driver's face.

. Don't trust anyone: After a couple of drinks, it's easy to believe that the barman or the woman you've just chatted to in the toilets are your best friends. But they're strangers so keep personal information to a minimum.

. Don't go to the cash machine alone. Trust your instinct: If it feels wrong, it probably is.

. Look after your friends: By looking out for one another, you can all have a few drinks, enjoy your night out and get home in one piece.

SAFE Place Merseyside: 0151-295 3550 at any time of the day or night for confidential help and support.

*Names have been changed.

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HAVING FUN: Things can turn nasty very quickly if you're not careful
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Publication:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England)
Date:Dec 8, 2010
Words:744
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