Guest blog: National Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence Awareness Week
Amy Mitchell Service Manager SARC - Swindon & Wiltshire:
"I've been sexually assaulted".
It's difficult to comprehend the profound impact on an individual who is brave enough to say these words. They are at the start of a difficult journey and have chosen to trust the person listening with a vulnerability which reaches the depth of who they are.
It's well known and accepted that sexual assault needs a multi-faceted approach in order to set individuals on a positive path to recovery. Women and men have the same physiological responses during trauma and can go on to develop complex symptoms of psychological trauma, so it's important to ensure that early intervention is 'trauma informed' and recognises the risks posed to an individual.
At the Swindon and Wiltshire Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC), crisis workers and nurses are on hand 24/7 in order to help survivors navigate through the complex journey following a sexual assault.
As a multi-agency "one-stop-shop", individuals are able to access a range of support in the early stages following an assault, either via the police or by calling the service themselves. When someone calls the SARC, a trauma informed crisis worker is ready to respond and listen in a non-judgmental way. The crisis worker will offer to book the caller a time to visit the SARC, between 8am and 8pm, any-day of the week.
On arrival, the crisis worker will greet the survivor and ensure they are aware that they are in control of the support and can make decisions about what happens at the SARC.
The nurses are on hand to provide early preventative medication for pregnancy, HIV and Hepatitis B, as well as assess any injuries. The nurses also offer a forensic medical examination to obtain DNA as evidence if an individual chooses to report to the police, a process which is always completed with the complainant in control.
As the SARC is independent from Wiltshire Police, people who attend can receive the full service and have the option to report to police within two years of their appointment. If someone chooses not to report to the police, any samples are destroyed at two years. Even if a person is reluctant to have the full support on offer at the SARC, they are encouraged to call or consent to the SARC calling them. In the early days following a sexual assault a person may not know what their options are or what they need to be aware of - they are often in a state of trauma. As a result, they must have early access to someone who can do this thinking for them.
It's common for certain myths to stop someone accessing the SARC.
Things like: "a condom was used," "I've had a shower" or "I'm not sure if I was assaulted, I can't remember anything" can prevent people from reporting or getting support as they think there is no chance of evidence being found or any health implications arising.
It's essential that regardless of what sort of assault has been carried out, survivors are encouraged to access help early, and are assured that the staff at the SARC will provide specialist support.