Today (1 May 2014) marks one year of operation for Bridge House – North Yorkshire’s first Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC).
Since the SARC opened, 55 victims of sexual crime have self-referred to the centre for help. These are 55 victims who could still be suffering in silence if the service did not exist.
Self-referring means that victims of rape or sexual assault can contact the SARC direct and do not have to speak to the police or enter a police station. This allows them time to explore every option which is available to them before deciding what they want to do, giving them the control about how their case is dealt with.
Overall, 186 victims have used the services of the SARC, including 131 referrals from North Yorkshire Police. Four victims have been referred to the centre by SARCs in other areas.
The SARC has been jointly funded by North Yorkshire Police and the NHS until 2015 after which it will be the subject of a co-commissioning process with the NHS and other partners.
SARC Manager Sarah Murphy (pictured), said: It is very satisfying to know that 55 people have made the first step in seeking help by calling the SARC during its first year of operation. It is an excellent response and higher than expected but there are areas where we want to encourage more victims to use the service.
Victims have contacted us from across North Yorkshire, but less so in the Scarborough, Hambleton and Richmondshire areas and we will be concentrating on raising awareness of our services in those areas.
It’s important that victims know that the service is available to all men and women no matter where they live. If a person can’t travel to us, we can arrange to meet them at a location convenient to them. I would urge people not to hesitate to call, please make the first step on the way to getting the help you need.
In a recent sample survey of people who had used the SARC, one victim described the service as utterly phenomenal and couldn’t praise the service any higher. Another victim said the SARC took them seriously when other people would not.
Detective Superintendent Heather Pearson, who heads the Protecting Vulnerable Persons Unit, added: We are very pleased with how the SARC has been received during its first year. The service has victims at its heart, providing a welcoming environment where they can speak to professionals and get support and information, allowing them to take control of how their case is dealt with and in their own time.
Rape and sexual assault are traumatic crimes which can have a lasting effect on their victims and I hope the positive feedback we have received encourages more victims to come forward to get the help they need. Early intervention is key to getting the support you need and helping to prevent further offending.
The SARC – known as Bridge House – is designed to provide victims of sexual crime with help, support and options rather than having to report directly to the Police.
All calls and messages to the centre are dealt with by SARC staff and victims can phone or email the centre initially.
Specially trained staff can talk victims through the support available to them which will continue along whichever route they choose to take.
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.
Anyone who has been the victim of a sexual assault is encouraged to call the SARC regardless of where or when their ordeal took place.
Sarah Murphy added: There is no historical cut-off point for cases so if an incident happened today or 30-plus years ago, you can still access the same services.
There is no time restrictions on how long a person can access the services of the SARC. Each case is dealt with at the victim’s pace. For example, you may contact the service for an initial discussion then not make contact for several weeks or months if you need further time to think. This is perfectly acceptable and you can re-contact the centre whenever you feel you are able to.
To contact Bridge House call 01904 669339 or visit www.turntobridgehouse.org
If you are in immediate danger or your safety is threatened, you must always call the police 999.
Jane (her name has been changed) tells how Bridge House helped her daughter and her family when her daughter became the victim of a sexual assault:
From the onset of a serious sexual incident involving our daughter, we were introduced to Bridge House.
After considering the detailed information given to us about the centre, our daughter decided that she would like to make use of the valuable service they offer to allow her time to think about whether or not she would report the incident to the police.
The staff at the SARC were able to obtain relevant evidence including evidence from a medical examination which was then stored and will be kept for up to seven years.
This service gave our daughter time to think, which in her case was very important to her. She wanted to consider various aspect of what it would involve and come to a decision in her own time as to whether she would report the incident to the police.
As a family, we were all given support in terms of advice and what further tests were required. We were referred to relevant external organisation and our daughter also used the services of a sexual health clinic through the SARC.
Through her own choice, our daughter was introduced to an Independent Sexual Violence Advisor (ISVA) who has been able to provide long-term emotional support on our daughter’s journey in coming to terms with her ordeal.
We feel our experiences with the SARC and ISVA were positive despite the difficult circumstances we were under. The staff helped us feel welcome and at ease and focused on the physical and emotional needs of both our daughter and us as a family.
The staff at the centre were very approachable, sensitive, prompt and remained professional at all times, providing us with detailed information which allowed our daughter to make her own choices in her own time.
After some weeks our daughter decided she would like to report the incident to the police. The ISVA was very supportive during this time, answering any questions which arose. She kept us fully informed and up to date in terms of any information regarding the police process, preparing the victim and US as a family for what may or may not occur. This gave us, as a family, more confidence knowing what to expect in order to support our daughter.
Even though this case is now closed, our daughter continues to receive support through the ISVA. Also, we as a family, have continuous access to support if and when required.
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.
Independent Sexual Violence Advisor – 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. As their name suggests, they are independent of the police. 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