More sexual assault victims urged to come forward

Since opening just over six months ago, North Yorkshire’s Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) has seen 22 victims of sexual crime contact the centre directly

Issued by North Yorkshire Police

Since opening just over six months ago, North Yorkshire’s Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) has seen 22 victims of sexual crime contact the centre directly.

However, staff are keen to see more victims use the services of this important facility which is available to all men and women across North Yorkshire and the City of York.

The SARC – known as Bridge House – opened on 1 May 2013 and is designed to provide victims of sexual crime with help, support and options rather than having to report directly to the police.

Specially trained staff can talk victims through the support available to them which will continue along whichever route they choose to take.

The ability for victims to self-refer to the centre means that they do not have to speak to the police if they do not want to, allowing time to explore every option available to them before deciding which route to take. All calls and messages to the centre are dealt with by SARC staff and victims can phone or email the centre initially.

Medical facilities also mean that if appropriate, early forensic evidence can be obtained for use in future criminal cases if a victim is unsure of what to do in the early stages.

SARC Manager Sarah Murphy, said: “It’s satisfying to know that the SARC has helped 22 victims in the six months it has been open, but we are keen to encourage more people to contact us who have been victims of sexual crime.

“It’s important that victims know we are not police officers and that they can contact us directly – this is known as self-referring – which means exactly that. All you have to do is phone or email Bridge House and we will take everything at your pace.

“Victims will not be pressurised or forced to do anything they don’t feel ready to do. We provide a neutral, yet homely environment where victims can seek the specialist advice, support and help they require without entering a police environment.

“Our medical facilities also mean that any early evidence can be secured without victims having to go direct to the police.”

Ms Murphy added: “There is no historical cut off point for reporting sexual abuse – whether it happened yesterday or 50 years ago – you can still come to us for help.

“Rape and sexual assault are devastating crimes which can have life-changing effects, not only for the victims but also their families. If a victim does not want to pursue a criminal investigation or if there is not enough evidence, Bridge House can still offer support and services to victims and help them move on with their lives.”

To date, four out of the 22 victims who have contacted the SARC have gone on to make a formal complaint to the police.

Detective Inspector Karen Warner who oversees the management of the SARC said: “This is a really good reflection for the service that victims feel they have the support and confidence to take the step to make a formal complaint to the police.

“I have been dealing with victims of rape and serious sexual assault for over 20 years now. The SARC is such a positive move for all victims within North Yorkshire.

“It enables them to receive help and support at a time when they may be in turmoil and gives them control and choice. It’s important that all victims are aware the service is not just for those who live within City of York, but for everyone within North Yorkshire.”

Julia Mulligan, Police and Crime Commissioner for North Yorkshire added: “I championed this centre shortly after my election last year because I was committed to putting victims at the heart of North Yorkshire Police’s services.

“Going by the testimonies from victims, the centre is already making a positive impact on people’s lives. It’s also really encouraging to see that this is leading to an increase in the number of people coming forwards when they are assaulted.

“There’s still a lot of work to do in encouraging more people to go directly to Bridge House for the support they need, when they need it.

“However, everyone who has worked so hard to open the service can be rightly proud of a very promising first six months and the difference they are making for victims.”

To contact Bridge House call 01904 669339 or visit the Bridge House website.

Case Study 1

Ann (her name has been changed) is a victim of historical sexual abuse, here she tells how Bridge House has helped her move on, 40 years after she was abused.

I found out about the SARC following some information in a newspaper. I had been working with my therapist for a few years in relation to historical sexual abuse and had been considering going to the police, but was concerned about the process and the consequences of reporting it.

Thoughts such as “would I be out of control?”, “would I find myself in a situation I did not want to be in?” went through my head.

I self-referred to SARC and visited the centre not knowing what to expect. I was greeted by a warm and professional welcome from Sarah the SARC Manager and reassured that the police would not visit the centre while I was there.

During the first visit I was shown around the centre – including the interview room – which I found very daunting even though it is like a sitting room, with sofas etc.

I was able to give my account of what happened and at no time did I feel rushed or under pressure. I was fully informed of what happened to the information and at no time felt any pressure to report it to the police.
I asked lots of questions and many were answered at the time, but any that were not the member of staff came back with a response.

I was asked if I wanted to consent to having the alleged offender’s information put on the police data base so it could be checked to see if any other information about him was held.

It would be anonymous and I could not be traced by the police. This was really important to me as I feared he may have abused others, but I was not at a point of wanting to report.

I was given a couple of days to think about this although I was sure it was something I wanted to do, I just needed some time to think.

The centre gave me a stepping stone between thinking about reporting to actually reporting.

I visited the centre several times, always seeing the SARC Manager and became familiar with the surroundings. I went back into the interview room and sat down for a short while, but found it oppressive and difficult to stay in there.

The next time I visited I took a friend and we sat in the interview room to talk and have a coffee, at the end of that time I felt comfortable in the room.

I then went back to the centre again and reported the crimes to the police. What was an extremely difficult and stressful event, however it was made easier by the familiarity of the surroundings and support of the SARC Manager, a familiar face was consistent throughout.

The SARC Manager also made the appointment with the police and this meant I did not have to pick up the phone to the police and start the process. That was really important as it takes a lot of courage to make that call.

The centre can refer you for support such as counselling, which I was offered, but as I already had this in place I declined.

I have received support and advice from the centre throughout this process and know I can call and leave a message and they will come back to me.

No question is too stupid to ask and things are always explained.

The centre made a huge difference to my experience of reporting and feeling safe and in the ways described above.

I would definitely recommend the centre to others, you have nothing to lose by going there and so much to gain.

Case Study 2

Laura (her name has been changed) was a victim of rape two years ago. Here she tells how the SARC services at Bridge House have been invaluable and have helped her move forward after a very traumatic time in her life…

The SARC service was recommended to me through my Independent Sexual Violence Advisor (ISVA). I originally found out about the service through Victim Support, but it took me a long time to be able to build up my confidence to face the issues I had and begin to tackle them.

Since engaging with SARC, I have found the service to be invaluable. I have finally managed to pluck up the courage to start taking the baby steps I have always wanted to take, but previously felt too pressurised to take via a police investigation.

There was a point after the incident when I just needed to take a step back and assess my life, everything I formerly knew had been tipped upside down and I felt that I needed to prioritise my life and work through things one-by-one. I knew my life would never be the same, but it was up to me to claw back as much as I could.

Just after the incident, I didn’t feel as though I had time to gather myself and register what had happened and the entire process seemed to be geared to a timetable and not the victim.

I was petrified that somebody I hadn’t consented to had taken away every shred of my pride, dignity, modesty and confidence and I was not ready to be taken to see a stranger to fulfil the necessary medical tests.

Engaging with the SARC has given me the ability to address the issues that I ran away from when I felt isolated, lonely and scared.

I feel supported by my SARC officer, and I now feel ready to take as many steps as I can to get the closure I need. After a couple of years of being an emotional wreck, I have a bit more positive control back in my life.

I would definitely recommend the SARC service to anybody. I have found it to be a friendly and professional service which has helped me take the steps I have been terrified of taking for years. If the SARC service had been available at the time I was assaulted, I would have taken a completely different path from the start. If I could go back now, I would do everything differently.

Now that the SARC service has been set up for people in North Yorkshire and York, I urge other victims to use it and would do anything within my means to help spread the word of the SARC service and help people in a similar situation to what I was in. Just to know that there is a friendly face there to help you would be a massive help.

Figures

22 victims have contacted the SARC direct since it opened on 1 May 2013. This has been for various forms of support ranging from advice to personal appointments.

To date, four of the 22 victims have gone on to make a formal complaint to the police (this is a positive – see quote above from DI Warner).

Since the SARC opened, we have referred an average of eight victims per month to the Independent Sexual Violence Advisor service. These are both victims who have self referred to the SARC and those who have gone direct to the police. This equates to an increase of 14% of cases being referred to an ISVA.

An ISVA is a specialist support worker who can assist and support you in the weeks and months after an assault. If you choose, they will help you throughout the court process from start to finish. Some of the services they provide include:

  • Initial assessment of the support that you need
  • Drawing up of a care plan and involvement of any other partner agencies required
  • Confidential and impartial advice that is not linked to the police
  • Regular and ongoing telephone contact
  • Face to face meetings and support
  • Help with advice on housing issues
  • Detailed understanding of the court process and the criminal justice system
  • Attendance with you at any police interviews or court proceedings
  • Liaison between you, the police, the CPS and barristers acting on your behalf
  • Emotional support and guidance
  • Support in reporting your assault to the police if you first came as a self referral