The NHS has launched a campaign against sexual violence and is aiming to raise awareness of its sexual assault referral centres (SARCs).
The new campaign marks mark the start of Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence Awareness Week.
It comes as a new survey of more than 4,000 people in England found that two in five (44 per cent) adults don’t know where to get help after being sexually assaulted.
Meanwhile, more than half (56 per cent) of survivors of sexual assault or abuse have not sought any help at all, and 72 per cent of people are unaware of the NHS’ specialist sexual assault services.
As part of the campaign, the NHS has spoken to survivors of sexual violence who have been supported by SARCs, which offer confidential medical, practical and emotional support to people who have recently been raped or sexually assaulted.
In 2015, 28-year-old Laura was spiked on a night out with friends, in Newcastle. After blacking out for several hours, she woke up to find she was being sexually assaulted by two men, who she knew.
After the assault, Laura reported the attack to the police and was referred to a Sexual Assault Referral Centre, where she received forensic testing and emotional support.
“I remember the woman at the SARC who helped me was so warm, kind and compassionate,” she recalled.
“She explained the whole process to me calmly and was there to hold my hand during one of the worst moments of my life. The staff were caring but not intrusive, and I felt they gave me space and autonomy over my body that my attackers had taken away”.
Another survivor, Nicola, who was abused as a child and sought support from SARC more than 30 years later, added: “While I didn’t access a SARC at the time of my assault, being able to use my lived experience to help others has been instrumental in the recovery and healing process.
“I want people to know that it doesn’t matter when the assault happened- SARCs are still there for you. It is a place where dedicated professional staff and volunteers are there to deliver high-quality care and give advice and support for rape, sexual assault and abuse victims. They can provide a safe and secure place, without judgement or requirements, and they will listen to you.”
For more information about SARCs and to find your nearest one, visit Rape Crisis here.