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16 January 2015, 07:46
A specialist support centre dedicated to victims of rape and sexual assault will be extended to children across Norfolk from today.
Since opening in September 2010 the Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) - aptly named The Harbour Centre - has provided assistance for those aged 13 and over.
But from January 2015 the centre will be officially opening its doors to children aged under 13 who are in need of round-the-clock help.
The move has been welcomed by a mother whose young daughter was sexually abused.
After reporting the abuse to police Susie's daughter was taken to a video interview suite in King's Lynn before undergoing a paediatric medical examination at hospital the next day.
The launch of the new service now means child victims will be taken to a single location - the SARC - for a paediatric assessment and medical examination as well as support from a dedicated Child Advocate.
The 40-year-old, who has asked to be known as Susie, described the new facility as a "warm environment".
"It felt like we were at the hospital for hours and now when I say the word 'hospital' to my daughter she is taken back to that day again and withdraws. The Harbour Centre is just much more of a home from home.
"It is great to see little play areas for children which will help them to feel as comfortable as they can."
Susie was supported by a Child Advocate - one of two currently funded by the Police and Crime Commissioner's Office.
The role of the Child Advocate has been in place since November 2013 with the main aim to provide support for child victims of serious sexual assault as well as their families.
Speaking of her experience Susie, added: "It was really nice to have the support from the child advocate not only for my child but it was also good for me to have someone impartial to talk to at such a difficult time.
"I wouldn't wish what happened to us on anyone else but I would urge other people to do the right thing by their child and pick up the phone because there is help out there."
The SARC was officially opened in September 2010 to victims of rape and serious sexual assault aged 13 or over and is a joint venture between Norfolk Constabulary and NHS England.
It empowers victims by allowing them to report their abuse and undergo medical examinations without prompting a police investigation. If at any time a victim decides to talk to the police this can be arranged.
Victims are also able to report historical abuse and can be referred by the police.
There is no self-referral route for those aged under 13, such victims would be referred to the centre through children's services or the police.
The revamp of the centre includes a new children's waiting area, a paediatric assessment room and a 'child-friendly' medical room.
SARC manager Diana Baxter, said: "Rape and sexual assault can have a devastating impact on victims and their families and over the past four years we have been able to provide crucial care to those who are in need.
"However, it has always been my wish to be able to provide such a facility for children and their families who need our support at such a traumatic and emotional time in their lives.
"I am delighted therefore that we are now able to open the centre to under 13s while offering victims access to one of our Child Advocates to help them understand what has happened, prepare for the next steps and aid in their recovery from the trauma."
Norfolk's Police and Crime Commissioner Stephen Bett, said: "While I very much wish its services weren't needed, it gives me some comfort to know that victims of rape and sexual assault in Norfolk are able to access first-class help and support from the dedicated and highly-skilled staff at the Harbour Centre.
"The extension of the Harbour Centre's services to children is something to be welcomed. The service provided by the SARC is led by victim need and, sadly, the individual in need is sometimes a child.
"I am funding the provision of specialist child advocacy within the child SARC because I understand how vital it is in supporting these young members of our society. They have experienced something truly horrendous and they deserve the best support we can offer to help them cope with and recover from what's happened to them."
The extention to the centre has also been partly funded by Norfolk County Council and the Norfolk Safeguarding Children Board (NSCB).
James Joyce, Chairman of the Children's Services Committee at Norfolk County Council, said: "We know that children that are victims of sexual abuse need specialist care, in a welcoming, safe and sensitive environment. They have been through an awful experience and a hospital and police station can be daunting places for them, despite the very best efforts of staff
"The Harbour Centre has the dedicated resources and trained staff that these victims need when they are at their most vulnerable and I am pleased that we have been able to support its extension, so that it can provide care to Norfolk's children. I hope this helps children to cope with their ordeal and aids the police in seeking justice for these horrible crimes."
David Ashcroft, Chair of the NSCB, said: "Children who have been victims of sexual abuse are at their most vulnerable and need dedicated care and support. The new facility at the Harbour Centre gives them access to skilled staff, who can help them to begin to recover from their ordeal.
"This has been a joint project between the agencies working to protect and support children in the county, so that they can be cared for in the most appropriate environment. Whilst we all wish it wasn't needed, we know that centres such as these give victims the specialist support they need to begin to cope with what has happened."