Healthwatch Essex Trauma Ambassador Group talk about… Sexual Assault Referral Centres

Sexual assault can, and does, happen to anyone, regardless of their age, gender or any other factor. It is any sexual act which occurs without consent; you cannot give consent if you are drunk or under the influence of drugs, or if you have said nothing or have not been asked. Being in a relationship does not automatically mean that you give consent, and you have the right to change your mind if you have already said yes. Sexual assault is a crime, for which responsibility lies solely with the perpetrator. It can be perpetrated by a stranger, someone you know or are related to, or someone that you are in a relationship with.

SARC’s (Sexual Assault Referral Centres) are available to anyone who has experienced sexual assault, regardless of whether they have, or intend to, report to the police. They offer a range of services, including crisis care, medical and forensic examinations, emergency contraception and testing for sexually transmitted infections. They can also arrange access to independent support, as well as referrals to mental health support and sexual violence support services. Many people do not know about the SARC’s and what they offer or are hesitant about contacting them. It can be very hard to discuss sexual assault, but the teams at the SARC’s are specially trained and extremely compassionate and understanding.

Our Healthwatch Essex Trauma Ambassador, Rosie, shares her experience of using the Essex SARC;

“I knew SARC’s existed, from documentaries on TV. So, I knew about them, but I didn’t realise that there was a SARC where it was, stand-alone, specifically for that in Brentwood. They (the police) asked me if I wanted to go – like, it was my choice – if I wanted to go to the SARC to get looked over. And I decided, yes, and so the police took me there, they escorted me there, and I was there for about two hours. And I hadn’t eaten all day because of what had happened, but they kept feeding me. There were two ladies, and they were really, really nice, as well. They kept me really calm throughout, kept checking in on me. Then when I was having all my examinations or whatever, they were so friendly, they were so nice. I got to share with them about other stuff I had been doing, and we was talking about different things on Netflix and, all different things really. And it was like, it was all, it was actually quite a pleasant experience in a weird way…

“When you go in there … It was clean, it was quiet, which was nice, because the one worry I had was, ‘oh my god, am I going to walk in there, is there loads of people in there?’ But it was just me. And the two women in there were so lovely.  I actually – not enjoyed the experience, that’s the wrong word – but I didn’t mind being there, because they were just so nice. And like, one of them did all the tests, while the other one was keeping my mind off things, so we were talking about different things, and she was just so lovely. They were so, so nice. And they give you clothes, obviously, if they have to take any of yours, which is nice, and stuff like that. I had a really good experience, because these two women were just so kind and caring and thoughtful, and it wasn’t a case where it was just like, ‘right, we’re doing these tests,’ and that’s it. They made sure that I was okay, they made sure I was comfortable, they made sure I’d eaten enough, they went above and beyond. And really importantly, there was no pressure. From the outset, they said that, but there was no pressure, there was no, ‘you should really…’ or anything. It was down to me. And I was able to be myself and talk about what I do for a living, really. And they were really good, they were amazing, and I thank them so much because they just made me feel so much better about the situation.

“And then, obviously, after all that the police took me back and then I was able to just go home. And then the next, couple of days later, I had a phone call in regard to further support from the SARC. I got support from their ISVA (Independent Sexual Violence Adviser) and, when I was worried, and needed someone to speak to, I rung the SARC and they was able to signpost me for support there and then.”

*The ISVA service and specialist sexual violence counselling services for Essex, including the SARC, are provided by SYNERGY Essex

Rosie has shared her experience in the hope that it may reassure others who would benefit from contacting their local SARC but may be unsure about doing so.

Individuals can telephone their nearest SARC to make an appointment or ask someone else, such as a healthcare professional, 111 call handler, friend or family member to do this. SARC’s are available 24 hours a day. Adults who access a SARC will have the option of reporting the incident to the police. There is no pressure for them to do this and it is their choice to make. Referrals for children are managed via children’s social care and / or police services.

If you have been sexually assaulted, please remember that it was not your fault. There is help and support available to you whether you want to report the assault to police or not. Healthwatch Essex Information & Guidance Service can provide you with details of your local services by calling us on 0300 500 1895, email [email protected] or text/WhatsApp 07712395398. If you are in immediate danger please call 999 and access help as soon as possible.