Special report: Shropshire team offers lifeline to sex crime victims

There are just six crisis workers dedicated to helping sex crime victims across the whole of Shropshire.

Special report: Shropshire team offers lifeline to sex crime victims

Those who receive their help, including men, women and children, have been victim to crimes such as rape and sexual assault.

Some of them were aged just two.

A total of 921 men, women and children have passed through the doors of two Sexual Assault Referral Centres that cover the West Mercia Police force area in the last three years.

  • The majority of rapes are committed by someone known to the victim. It is estimated that 80 per cent of women who are raped or sexually assaulted know their attackers and that 53 per cent of assaults are committed by a current or ex partner.

  • There are around 45 Sarcs across England, Scotland and Wales, linked to police forces. The commissioning of Sarcs is implemented across England with funding from the NHS, police, local authorities and the voluntary sector.

  • The first Sarc in England and Wales was established in 1986 at the St. Mary’s Hospital, Manchester, by the local health authority in collaboration with the Greater Manchester Police.

  • Operation Yewtree is a police investigation into sexual abuse allegations, predominantly involving the abuse of children, against the British media personality Jimmy Savile and others. The investigation, led by the Metropolitan Police Service, started in October 2012. After a period of assessment it became a full criminal investigation, involving inquiries into living people as well as Savile. On 19 October 2012 the Metropolitan Police reported that more than 400 lines of inquiry had been assessed and over 200 potential victims had been identified.[/breakout]

The Shropshire Star was invited to take a look inside The Glade sexual assault referral unit in Telford.

There are dozens of sexual assault referral centres, or Sarcs, across England and Wales. All are seeing numbers rise year-on-year.

Detective Sergeant Ian Rutherford, of West Mercia Police, said Sarcs were an "important asset" in the fight against sexual crime.

The number of them has increased since the 2010 Stern Review announced more needed to be done to support those affected by sex crime.

The specialist centres combine police, forensic and counselling services on one site, aimed at better co-ordination between the services and less trauma for victims.

DS Rutherford said crisis workers at The Glade, which has bases in Telford and Worcester, and others such as Independent Sexual Violence Advisors, made it easier for officers in dealing with reported sex crimes and providing victim support.

He said: "Sarcs allow the victim to be in a better place and get better-quality service.

"It means the victim is being looked after by a crisis worker and the police can concentrate on the investigation.

"A victim can be brought to The Glade by an officer, for instance, if we get a report over the phone or someone comes to a police officer, and we will investigate. A specially trained officer will make contact with a crisis worker and a forensic doctor and bring the victim to the Sarc.

"Prior to November 2012 we didn't have crisis workers, so no self-referral. Victims had to go direct to the police and support was provided from elsewhere but now everything is offered in one place."

The centre provides a comforting place for victims to talk

Manager Hannah Taylor, of The Glade in Telford, said the team of six at the Telford site were often the first point of contact for many victims.

Crisis workers are based at Sarcs around the UK. These self-contained units provide a place for forensic, medical, counselling and after-care service to men, women and children who have been raped or sexually assaulted.

Mrs Taylor said: "The whole idea is confidentiality; we want people to feel comfortable here. It's important for people to be able to access help and support if they need it."

Numbers can increase around Christmas and the summer months.

When a sex crime is reported to police and the victim needs a medical examination, a specially trained officer takes them to the Sarc. It is here, if the visit falls within the forensic window, a medical examination will take place in a bid to gather evidence.

The unit is designed to make the client as comfortable as possible – and it is not glaringly obvious from the outside what takes place there. The Glade in Telford is tucked away behind a council building.

The victim is then led to a door marked Examination Room, a sealed, sterile space to avoid contamination of evidence.

Samples such as urine and mouth swabs may be taken prior to arrival at the centre. Police may also have to seize the victim's clothing.

For police cases, inside the Sarc, the victim will give their account to the officer with a crisis worker on hand to support the client whilst at the centre. Any requested family members can be present.

In this time, a specially trained forensic examiner, which may be a doctor or nurse, will attend to discuss all options available regarding a forensic examination.

The forensic examiner will, with the victim's consent, check for any injuries. A victim may have intimate samples may be taken.

It could be that this evidence will have to stand up to scrutiny if it goes to court.

A teddy in the Examination Room

The victim may be invited for a video interview with an officer to also later be used for court. Alternatively, victims who don't wish to involve the police can self-refer to the centre and will be offered a forensic examination to gather and store forensic evidence if appropriate.

Mrs Taylor added that forensic examinations must take place within the forensic window to gather evidence appropriately.

She said: "Most people wouldn't know about forensic window opportunity to collect evidence following a rape or sexual touching. Many people may not be aware that there is a Sarc service in their local area.

"Others don't wish to involve police but are unaware where they can access follow-up – we can offer support and information on all services available to them.

"We have six crisis workers here at Telford and around eight at The Glade in Worcester. There are two crisis workers on call and we can get called out at anytime of the day or night. Victims have been aged as young as two and up to around 67."

The Sarc also offers pregnancy tests, medical if appropriate and advice on sexually transmitted diseases.

Following attendance at the centre, the victim will be given the opportunity to be referred to the local Independent Sexual Violence Advisory service at Axis.

These advisors will be able to support them as their case goes through the criminal justice system.

But there are also a number of other services and agencies available.

The Sarc ensures that all clients are able to access support whilst there and after attending the centre. Clients are given the option to leave whenever they want.

  • If you or someone you know has experienced rape or sexual assault call The Glade Self Referral Line 0808 178 2058, email info@theglade.org.uk or go to www.theglade.org.uk

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