By Shadi Bushra
LONDON (Reuters) - The number of rape victims coming forward in Britain has surged 40 percent in the past year amid publicity surrounding sex crimes by the late TV presenter Jimmy Savile, a sexual assault hotline said on Wednesday.
Rape Crisis, an umbrella organization for a network of local help centers across Britain, reported a 40 percent increase in calls to its national hotline since revelations that Savile, who died in 2011, was a prolific child sex abuser.
"From feedback we've had it's due in part to the high profile media coverage that, for the first time in some ways, highlighted the voices and the experiences of the survivors," spokeswoman Katie Russell said.
She said the helpline had received 78,000 calls in the past year, up from 55,000 a year earlier, with some people reporting recent sexual assaults but 60 percent of callers reporting events that took place three or more years ago.
Russell said this public reaction was due to the Savile coverage being relatively free of any blame being directed towards victims as this often stopped people who had been raped from coming forward.
"One positive outcome of the last year is that so many of these survivors have at last been heard, recognized, believed, and given the confidence to seek support, often for the very first time," she said.
Government figures released in January this year estimated that over 85,000 women were raped and over 400,000 sexually assaulted in England and Wales every year but only about 15 percent went to the police.
Figures from the Metropolitan Police Service, which is responsible for the greater London area, showed an increase in the number of people coming forward to report sexual assaults i the past year.
A spokesman said there had been a 10 percent increase in the number of sexual assaults reported to the police between August 2012 and August 2013.
"We are always encouraged by an increase in reports as we consider it an indication of increased confidence in police," police spokesman Alan Crockford told Reuters by email. "But we are not complacent and are aware that rape remains under-reported."
Savile was one of British television's biggest stars in the 1970s and 1980s but police have discovered that he was a prolific abuser who used his fame to assault hundreds of children and adults, males and females, over six decades.
An investigation by a UK police watchdog released in March found in several cases the assaults were reported but police did not follow up, even berating the victims for slandering a man who had had audiences with the queen and the pope.
(Reporting By Shadi Bushra)