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Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC)

What is a SARC?
What happens if I go to a SARC?
Forensic Medical Examination
Police Interview
Male SARC clients
Self Referrals
What happens next: Support from ISVAs
What happens after the court case or if it does not go to court?

What is a SARC?

A Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) is a special facility where recent victims of rape or sexual assault can receive immediate help and support. This includes access to a forensic medical examination, which is carried out by an experienced and qualified doctor, and the opportunity to speak to the Police about what has happened to them if the client wishes to do so. SARC clients also receive help and advice from one of our Crisis Workers who can offer to support them and stay with them throughout the process.

In 2005 New Pathways opened our first SARC at Willow House in Merthyr Tydfil. This was the first SARC to be opened in Wales and the first anywhere in the UK which was managed by a non statutory agency. The opening of Merthyr Tydfil SARC represented a major step forward and provided the opportunity for numerous agencies to work together in partnership and develop vastly improved services for victims in Wales. We have since opened a further 3 SARCs in Risca (nr Newport), Swansea and Carmarthen. Our SARC services can be accessed 24 hours a day, every day of the year including all public holidays.

Often victims of rape and sexual assault can feel that they have limited choices and believe that telling someone what happened to them will result in events quickly becoming out of their control. However the essence of SARC services is that they are completely client focussed and designed to ensure that clients receive the right information to enable them to make their own choices about what happens next. This includes being able to self refer to a SARC and receive immediate support without having to report to the Police. For further details about this please read the Self Referrals section below.

What happens if I go to a SARC?

If you have been the victim of a rape or sexual assault within the last 10 days then you can go to one of our SARCs and receive immediate help and support. If the rape or sexual assault happened more than 10 days ago please go to the Home Page and click on the appropriate link. The SARCs can be accessed 24 hours per day, 365 days of the year and following a call to our helpline one of our Crisis Workers can be available to meet you at the SARC within one hour day or night. You are welcome to bring a friend or family member with you to the SARC where we have a comfortable family and friends waiting room which has tea and coffee making facilities and the availability of cold drinks and food if required.

Upon arrival at the SARC you will be met by one of our Crisis Workers who will speak to you in private to discuss any immediate concerns that you have, explain about the SARC procedures and discuss your options. They will give you all the information you need to help you to make up your mind about what to do next. If you decide to proceed you will be given the option of having a forensic medical examination and also the opportunity to make a report to the police about what has happened. At the SARC we have a dedicated medical examination room with specialist equipment and also a very comfortable police interview room which has full audio and visual recording facilities.

Forensic Medical Examination:

A forensic medical examination is carried out by a qualified and experienced doctor known as a Forensic Medical Examiner or FME. The purpose of the examination is to gather any forensic evidence that may be available following a rape or sexual assault. This may include making an accurate record of any injuries that you may have sustained and collecting any DNA evidence that may be present. The importance of the examination is that it could potentially provide important evidence should you decide to make a report to the Police which subsequently goes to court.

We will try to make you as relaxed as possible by explain the process and by showing you the examination room prior to you deciding whether or not to proceed. Obviously due to the nature of the work this is often an intimate medical examination, however the FMEs will do everything possible to make you feel comfortable and they will talk you through each step of the process. The Crisis Worker can also support you throughout the examination and ensure that you continue to have choices at all times. You are able to have a family member with you instead to support you if you wish during the examination, however in our experience it is preferable to have the specialist trained Crisis Worker present who will be able to talk to you and answer any questions you may have.

During the medical examination you will have access to emergency contraception if necessary and we will also be able to arrange for you to have a full sexual health screen to alley any fears you may have regarding possible sexually transmitted diseases. We have fast track arrangements with local GUM clinics who will be able to give you a dedicated appointment and provide you with a discreet and sensitive service without any additional fuss or having to sit in waiting rooms etc.

Following the forensic medical examination you will be able to have a shower in a private bathroom and you will be given your own personal toiletries kit. You will also be provided with a brand new set of clothes which will consist of underwear, t-shirt, fleece joggers and a fleece sweatshirt. The reason for this is that your own clothes may have been gathered and stored for forensic evidence. We have sizes to cater for everyone and we have female and male clothing and toiletries packs.

Police Interview:

If you decide to do so you will be able to make a report to the Police about what has happened to you. At the SARC we have a full Police interview suite which consists of a comfortable interview room with discreet cameras and microphones and full recording facilities. Most Police forces now have a dedicated team of officers who investigate sexual offences and you will find that the police officers that you speak to will be approachable, very experienced in working in this field and also sensitive to your needs as a victim. Each police force has a different name for these specially trained officers for example in Gwent Police they are called Sexual Offence Liaison Officers or SOLOs.

The police interview can either take place directly after the forensic medical examination or on the following day. The reason for sometimes delaying the interview is that victims often attend the SARC at night and consequently they may be very tired and may need to rest before being ready to conduct an interview.

During the interview you may request for the Crisis Worker to be present in the room. They will not be able to say anything or speak for you during the interview but many clients find it comforting and reassuring to have them there as a support.

Male SARC clients:

Many people think that rape and sexual assault is something that only affects women but this is certainly not the case. It is true that the majority of victims are women however each year on average about 10% of our SARC clients are male. When you consider that each year we support between 800-1000 SARC clients this is quite a significant number. Therefore if you are a male victim of rape or sexual assault you can access exactly the same level of service and support from New Pathways and we would encourage you to speak to us and get some help. You will find that our staff are highly sensitive to the needs of male clients and will be able to answer any questions that you may have.

Self Referrals:

We know that the decision to report a rape or sexual assault to the police is often not an easy one to make. There can be many reasons for this e.g. clients are scared about what will happen, often the perpetrators are known to them, they don’t want other people finding out etc. Therefore our service has been designed so that clients can have access to SARC services without having to involve the police.

A client who self refers will still have access to support from our SARC team and the availability of a forensic medical examination. We are able to gather and store the same level of forensic evidence including clothing and DNA samples etc. in a secure facility. This gives clients the opportunity to take time to think and to receive ongoing support from us before making the decision of whether or not to inform the police. The forensic evidence can be stored for several years so there will be no rush to make a decision and no pressure at all put on the client to make up their mind.

What happens next?

 

Support from our Independent Sexual Violence Advocates (ISVAs):

Within 48 hours of attending the SARC you will be contacted by one of our ISVAs, unless of course you tell the Crisis Worker that you do not wish to have any contact from us. The role of the ISVA is to provide ongoing support for you up to, and including any pending or potential court case. This support includes liaising with others on your behalf and keeping you regularly updated on any developments. This can include speaking to the police, the Crown Prosecution Service, health professionals, housing associations, employers etc.  The aim of doing this is to take as much pressure as possible off the clients’ shoulders and enable them to concentrate on feeling better themselves.

ISVAs are able to accompany you to appointments if you require and they will offer to support you during a court case. They will also arrange a pre court visit so that you can have a look at the court room before the case and get an understanding of what will happen and where you will have to sit and give evidence etc. Clients always find this really helpful as it helps to reduce their anxiety prior to the court hearing.

Our ISVAs are not counsellors however they are highly competent and skilled support workers. As such they are able to talk to you about your emotional wellbeing, provide you with positive coping strategies and allow you a safe and confidential space where you can talk about how you are feeling. Support is provided either face to face or by telephone (or usually both) and it will be at a level and frequency that is appropriate for your needs.

What happens after the court case or if it does not go to court?

Once the court case has ended, regardless of the outcome, or if the Crown Prosecution Service decides that there is insufficient evidence to proceed to court you will be offered the opportunity to speak to one of our counsellors. Quite often clients find that the support they have received from the ISVA is sufficient and they decline this offer. However we know that some clients suffer high levels of trauma as a result of their experiences and require ongoing specialist counselling. If you are interested in finding out more about our counselling please click here.