Written by Amy Mitchell, Service Manager, Sexual Assault Referral Centre

"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.

Supporting victims is equally as important as any police investigation and criminal justice process, and the Swindon and Wiltshire Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) plays a fundamental role in offering victims support immediately following an assault.

Putting victims and witnesses at the heart of everything continues to be a priority in the current Police and Crime Plan. 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.

While we are commissioned by the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner (OPCC) to work closely with the police, victim welfare is always our first priority, and throughout contact with us we are very much led by what the victim wants to do.

At the SARC, crisis workers and nurses are on hand 24/7 to help survivors navigate the criminal justice journey following a sexual assault.

In the days following an assault, a person may not know what their options are or what they need to be aware of.  As a result, they must have early access to someone who can do this thinking for them.

As a multi-agency "one-stop-shop", individuals can access a range of support in the early stages, 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, they will then offer to book the caller a time to visit the SARC, between 8am and 8pm, any day of the week.

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 survivorin control.

As the SARC is independent from Wiltshire Police, people who attend can receive the full service without expectation that they will report to the police, and we’ll keep any samples for up to two years with their consent, enabling them to take time to make a decision.

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.

The 24/7 number is 01793 781917.