RISING numbers of women in Glasgow are seeking help after suffering sexual violence, with calls to a rape crisis helpline soaring by nearly 50% in just two years.

Rape Crisis Centre Glasgow received around 3700 calls last year from women who have suffered sexual assaults or abuse, according to new figures obtained by the Sunday Herald.

The shocking statistics come as thousands of people are expected to join a protest march tomorrow night in the south of the city, which is aiming to highlight the rising number of serious sexual assaults on women. The organisers of "These Streets are Made for Walking" - two women in their twenties - say they are tired of experiencing harassment and the fear of being assaulted in their daily lives "simply because we are female".

Last month, a woman was gang raped in the Toryglen area of Glasgow, while the following week a 24-year-old was sexually assaulted in Govanhill. In another attack at the beginning of this month, a 35-year-old woman was sexually assaulted in Kelvingrove Park at around 9.45pm on a Friday.

On Friday, police released CCTV images of a man they want to trace after a young girl was sexually assaulted in a shop in Glasgow city centre. The attack took place in Poundland, on Sauchiehall Street, around 5.15pm on 30 May.

The problem is, of course, far from confined to Glasgow, or Scotland. The shooting spree carried out by Elliot Rodger in California, said to have been motivated by a desire to punish women who had rejected him, has ignited a global online debate about misogynistic violence.

One leading international expert, Dr Jean Kilbourne, who has been working with Scotland's Violence Reduction Unit (VRU), has called for sexual violence to be tackled as a "public health" issue - in much the same way as smoking - with efforts focusing on changing the cultural environment, rather than viewing it as a problem for "a few individuals".

Isabelle Kerr, manager of Rape Crisis Centre Glasgow, told the Sunday Herald that the number of calls were increasing year on year, with 2013-14 showing a rise of 20%, following an increase of 27% the year before. "We are close to a 50% increase in two years in the number of calls to the Rape Crisis Centre in Glasgow," she said.

Kerr said among the factors driving an increase in reports was the recent attention around celebrity sex abuse cases such as Jimmy Savile, which can act as a trigger for women who have been assaulted recently or in the past to seek help.

However, Kerr cautioned: "It is very difficult to see whether that is an increase in the number of rapes or sexual assaults happening, or whether it is an increase in the number of women who are speaking out about it. We don't really know that.

"What I can verify through the statistics that are available to us is that the number of stranger rapes is still very much in the minority and it is certainly much more likely that someone will be raped by a person that they know or possibly be in a relationship with."

Statistics also indicate a worrying trend in sexual violence elsewhere in Scotland. Women's Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre Dundee and Angus recorded a 43% rise in new referrals last year, with 223 compared to 156 in 2012-13.

A breakdown of the figures shows 88 referrals were for rape, compared to 76 the year before, with 29 cases of sexual abuse, up one on the previous year. A total of 116 cases involved childhood sexual abuse, up from 107 in 2012-13.

The latest available figures from the Scottish Government show reported sexual offences across the country increased by 5% in 2012-13, with 7693 recorded compared to 7361 the previous year.

The number of reported rapes and attempted rapes also rose by 15% over the same time period, with 1462 recorded in 2012-13.

Meanwhile, although convictions for rape and attempted rape rose by 57% in 2012-13 compared to the previous year, they remain startlingly low, with a total of just 77: a figure Rape Crisis Scotland described as "quite shocking".

The issue is not going unchallenged. A resurgence in campaigning through social media, such as the Everyday Sexism and YesAllWomen projects - which share examples of sexism and violence against women - has been described as the "fourth wave" of feminism. The Suffragettes, the women's liberation movement of the 1960s, and the Riot Grrrl movement of the nineties make up the three previous waves.

Despite feminists fighting back online, the internet is a double-edged sword, with concerns that a misogynistic culture is being fuelled by factors such as young men's attitudes towards women being skewed by pornography.

Jan Macleod, manager of the Glasgow-based Women's Support Project, which aims to raise awareness of violence against women, said the problem was not with the material being sexually explicit, but that much of it was "woman-hating".

"A huge percentage of [pornography] is sexual violence or sexual assault," she said. "We find really alarming examples about behaviour, particularly among young people, as to what is considered acceptable. It has reached a situation where young girls will say we don't call that situation sexual assault, because if we did, we would be reporting it every day."

She added: "We do hear a lot from girls and from adult women about the impact of pornography on the expectations of partners.

"If nobody is speaking to young people about the difference between pornography and sex, then there is real danger that young boys who don't intend to be harmful cross that line between thinking this is how you are good at sex."

Kilbourne, an internationally renowned expert on the image of women in the media, is best known for the documentary Killing Us Softly, a study of the images of women used in advertising first released in 1979.

She argues that "objectifying" women in advertising and popular culture contributes to a climate which encourages violence against women, an issue exacerbated by the availability of "brutal, violent and misogynistic" pornography online.

Kilbourne, who is due to give seminars in Glasgow and Dundee in August, said more had to be done to address the "climate of fear" which impacts on all women's lives and behaviour.

She said: "I think we need to address this as a public health problem - it is something that is to a great extent created or at least encouraged by the kind of culture we live in. Therefore, all public health problems need to address the environment - or the cultural environment in this case.

"Rather than seeing it as a problem which affects a few individuals here or there ... [we should] recognise it as something which is a public health problem which affects all of us."

She compared the action needed - for example education, legislation and campaigning - to the efforts used to tackle tobacco use, which included banning smoking in public places.

"By making cigarettes more expensive, by putting graphic warning labels on the packs, restricting the advertising ... we have made tremendous progress with tobacco," she said.

"We made progress with smoking once we took the focus off the smoker and put it on the environment because that is what makes the difference."

It is no easy task, but efforts are under way to try to change attitudes. The Scottish branch of the White Ribbon campaign, a global movement for men who want to end violence against women, was launched four years ago. It has trained more than 150 speakers, with 4000 men also taking a pledge not to "commit, condone or remain silent about violence" against women.

David Thompson, campaign communications officer for White Ribbon Scotland, said: "We are not targeting specifically men who are perpetrators of violence, we are looking to try and change attitudes amongst the male population across the country as a whole and to let women know that men don't approve of it and that men will stand up and speak against it."

The campaign uses "bystander theory" which encourages men to speak out if they hear a sexist joke, for example, or phone police if they witness a situation where there is a threat to a woman.

Thompson said he believed change could be brought about, pointing to other successful campaigns such as drink-driving and wearing seatbelts.

He added: "When you think of drink-driving, there was a time when, although people knew it to be wrong, men were still offered a drink although they had a car with them.

"You can change attitudes for future generations - and although it is perhaps harder to change attitudes of older generations, it doesn't mean we shouldn't be trying."

Scotland's VRU, which aims to reduce violent crime and behaviour, is also carrying out "bystander" work in schools, aimed at challenging behaviour such as sexist jokes and "dangerous" attitudes which can lead to violence.

It has now been rolled out to six local authorities: Edinburgh, Inverclyde, Perth & Kinross, Borders, North Lanarkshire and East Ayrshire.

Chief Inspector Graham Goulden of the VRU warned: "Without men on board we will always continue to have these issues. I hold the belief that the majority of boys and men in Scotland possess healthy and non-abusive attitudes.

"It is 'some boys and some men' who tell the rape joke, that behave in a sexist way, that bully, that abuse, that rape. However, it is the silence of the majority that in some way gives consent to the 'some' that their behaviours are acceptable. This silence is a reason why many females can't go out without being sexually harassed or worse.

"Men's silence in the face of sexist behaviour gives the sexist men comfort and allows their attitudes to go unchallenged."

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said it was tackling the issue of sexual violence in a number of ways, including modernising rape laws to provide an easy-to-understand definition of consent and providing £34.5 million between 2012-15 for initiatives to tackle all forms of violence against women.

She added that Scotland's first national strategy for preventing violence against women would be published later this month.

The spokeswoman added: "The Scottish Government condemns all forms of violence against women and girls which has no place in the modern, inclusive Scotland we aspire to."