New Campaign Pledges More Support for Victims of Sexual Assault and Abuse

NHS launched a new campaign as ONS data shows Black people in the UK disproportionately experience sexual assault and abuse

Victims and survivors of sexual and domestic abuse are being encouraged to come forward for NHS help and care, as part of a major campaign backed by a £20m boost to specialist services.

Two new clinical lead roles for domestic violence and sexual assault are also being created, alongside dedicated domestic violence support for the NHS and integrated care systems across the country.

The new campaign – which has backing from the Duchess of Cornwall and former prime minister, Theresa May – is launching on the first day of Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence Awareness Week, and will highlight the specialist support offered at dozens of sexual assault referral centres (SARCs) in England.

This campaign is particularly pertinent to the Black community as ONS data from 2020 showed a 2.9% prevalence of sexual assault amongst Black people, compared to 2% for White people. 

While the majority of victims of sexual assault and domestic abuse are women and girls, health service leaders are encouraging anyone who needs support to turn to the NHS at one of the country’s 24-hour centres. SARCs offer confidential specialist, practical, medical and emotional support to anyone who has been raped, sexually assaulted, or abused – regardless of when the incident happened.

A new survey found two in five people aren’t sure or do not know where to get help after being sexually assaulted, with 72% unaware there are NHS specialist sexual assault services who can offer confidential support. More than half of people who have experienced sexual assault also say they did not seek help afterwards.  

It comes as NHS England announces a £20 million funding boost for sexual assault and domestic violence services over the next three years, including enhanced support services for victims and survivors of sexual assault and abuse who have complex, trauma-related mental health needs.

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Kate Davies, CBE, the NHS director of sexual assault services commissioning, said: “Sexual assault or domestic abuse can happen to anyone – any age, ethnicity, gender or social circumstance – and it may be a one-off event or happen repeatedly. 

“But sadly, thousands of people aren’t sure where to turn to get the help they need, and today the NHS is making it clear that you can turn to us.

“We provide confidential emotional, medical or practical support at our sexual assault referral centres, a dedicated safe space for anyone who needs it, regardless of when the incident happened.

“We know it can take a lot to pick up the phone and take that first step – we are here at any time of day or night, and we will support you through the whole process, whatever you decide to do.”

Debbie Liverpool, SARC Manager, said: “Sadly, Black people are more likely to experience sexual assault and abuse. Yet, we see very few Black people come through our centres.  It is important that establishments such as churches, community centres, education providers, hospitals and medical facilities support with dismantling the stigma that surrounds this issue, so everyone, irrespective of race, gender or age, feel able to seek the support they need.”

The new campaign comes as a survey of more than 4000 people across the country, conducted by Censuswide, found over half (56%) did not seek help from any organisation or service after the incident, while almost half of respondents (46%) cite fear of being believed as the biggest barrier to accessing services. 

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The number of people receiving help from NHS SARCs halved after the first lockdown compared to 2019, despite official figures showing that domestic abuse and sexual assault had increased.  

Also backing the new campaign are a number of organisations and charities who work closely with SARCs, including Safe arms, a non-profit organisation that deals with domestic abuse and violence.

Liz Kingsley, Safe Arms, said:  “Safe Arms is hugely supportive of the NHS raising awareness of sexual assault services as it’s so important that individuals know that they can access confidential and medical support after an incident, no matter when it happened. 

“We hope this campaign will reach all those who have experienced sexual assault or abuse, helping send the message that they can turn to the NHS for help”. I believe this awareness will certainly reduce the stigma associated with sexual assault and abuse in the Black community and challenge the behaviour of perpetrators.” 

Sexual assault referral centres provide a safe space and dedicated care for people who have been raped, sexually assaulted, or abused. If you have been raped, sexually assaulted or abused and don’t know where to turn, search “sexual assault referral centres” to find out more or visit nhs.uk/SARCs to find your nearest service.  

BACKGROUND:

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FURTHER INFORMATION ON SEXUAL ASSAULT REFERRAL CENTRES:

  • People can contact a SARC to make an appointment or ask someone else to do this on their behalf.
  • SARCs offer a range of services including crisis care, medical examinations, emergency contraception and testing for sexually transmitted infections. They can also arrange access to an independent sexual assault advisor, as well as referrals to mental health support and voluntary sector sexual violence support services.
  • Sexual assault referral centres also have forensic medical examination facilities, should you wish to report the assault to the police or are considering doing this, once you’ve had time to consider your options.
  • If you refer yourself to a SARC and are considering reporting the assault to the police, the centre can arrange for you to have an informal talk with a specially trained police officer, who can explain what is involved and next steps.
  • Specially trained advisers are also available to you through the criminal justice system if you decide to report the assault to the police. This includes supporting you through the trial, should the case go to court.
  • If you have been sexually assaulted or abused, whether as an adult or a young person, it is important to remember that it wasn’t your fault. Sexual violence is a crime, no matter who commits it or where it happens. Don’t be afraid to get help.

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