Credit: National Health Service
More than half of victims and survivors of sexual violence do not seek help from any organisation, a new survey has found. This shocking news has pushed the National Health Service (NHS) to take further action.
In research conducted by survey consultants Censuswide from 4-8 January this year, 56 six per cent of the more than 4,000 respondents across England said they did not seek help from any organisation after cases of sexual assault.
Nearly half of them – 46 per cent – said fear was the reason.
The survey also revealed that most of the victims told a friend or relative of the incident, followed by police, an organisation that provides support, and then an NHS official, meaning NHS facilities were not the go-to place for victims.
To change these statistics, NHS England has pledged £20 million over the next three years to boost specialist services for victims and survivors, noting their “complex, trauma-related mental health needs”.
The NHS is concerned that many people do not know where to seek help after suffering sexual abuse and are unaware of the existence of sexual assault referral centres (SARCs), as well as the services they offer.
“The number of people receiving help from SARCs nationally halved after the first lockdown compared to 2019, despite official figures showing that domestic abuse and sexual assault had increased,” the NHS says.
Matt Day, Director of Specialised Commissioning and Health and Justice at NHS England and NHS Improvement in the Midlands, is among officials encouraging the public to make use of the referral centres.
“SARCs provide confidential emotional, medical or practical support from a number of sexual assault referral centres across the region, which offer a dedicated safe space for anyone who needs it, regardless of when the incident happened,” said during the launch of the national campaign as the UK marked the annual Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence Awareness Week last week.
We know it can take a lot to pick up the phone and take that first step – but SARCs are here at any time of day or night and will support you through the whole process, whatever you decide to do.”
Some residents, however, of Salford, such as David Lekey, say they do not know what SARCs are and are unaware of organisations they can turn to with cases of sexual abuse.
When asked why some victims choose not to report cases to any party, David said: “Men, I think, choose not to report sexual assault because of the traditional view that it’s women who can be victims of sexual assault by men, and that men can’t be assaulted sexually.”
David is much like 72 per cent of the respondents in the research, who said they did not know about the existence of SARCs.
But the survey also found that 60 per cent of the respondents would use a confidential SARC in cases of sexual assault or abuse. As such, the NHS wants to increase awareness about the availability of services such as testing, emergency contraception, confidential advice, police referrals, counselling and psychological therapies, and medical support.
Questions linger, however, on whether the NHS can sustain this national campaign against sexual abuse as it has been part overwhelmed by wave after wave of Covid-19 virus strains. The department is dealing with the aftermath of the pandemic as well as its impact on domestic violence.
The UK announced its first Covid-19 lockdown on 23 March, 2020, just days after the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a pandemic.
In May the following year, the Government, citing a report by The Crime Survey for England and Wales, said “1.6 million women and 757,000 men had experienced domestic abuse between March 2019 and March 2020, with a 7% growth in police recorded domestic abuse crimes”.
It said: “Although there is limited official data so far on the impact of lockdown on domestic abuse, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reports that in mid-May 2020, there was a 12% increase in the number of domestic abuse cases referred to victim support. Between April and June 2020, there was a 65% increase in calls to the National Domestic Abuse Helpline, when compared to the first three months of that year.”
In the Censuswide survey, victims and survivors who sought help from various organisations cited the police, the NHS, Rape Crisis, Survivors UK, Safeline and The Survivors Trust.
For more information on help available for victims of sexual assault, check nhs.uk/SARCs.
You can find your nearest SARC in this directory.