Sexual assault referral centre opens

A centre which has been designed to help rape victims deal with the medical, legal and emotional aspects of sexual assault has opened in Peterborough.

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The Rivergate project (based at the old NHS Walk-In Centre next to Asda) is the first of its kind in East Anglia. It's been set up jointly by Cambridgeshire police, the NHS, and the charity Rape Crisis.

The Sexual Assault Referral Centre (or SARC), will be accessible 24 hours a day - victims just need to call 0845 089 6262 beforehand.

Sarah*, a 22 year old student from Stanground, suffered years of sexual abuse as a child from a neighbour.

She's urging other victims to come forward and access the support available:

"Talking to someone really helps. I had to keep a secret for a long period of time, for two and a half years. Now I hate keeping secrets, you have to tell someone how it is. You're not alone, there's help available. Take it - talk to someone."

Sarah says she was regularly raped - from the age of 11-  by a man in his forties. Her family thought he was giving her computer lessons.  It took her two and a half years before she told anyone what was happening.

"It makes you feel like it's your fault, that it's you. If you did go to tell your mum, or anyone else, you feel really ashamed. It made me feel sick. I used to cry every night....but he was so clever, he knew exactly how to have control over me".

She says she only told her family what was going on after they started to realise something was wrong.

"I'm a lot better now. I wasn't for a long time. It affects many things...but you've got to be strong. My mum, and my sister, and my family, and my aunt. If it weren't for them, I don't think I would have told anyone.

But to anyone out there who doesn't have family or friends to help, I would say you're not alone - you've now got this place. Go and get help."

Click here to listen to Sarah speaking to Heart reporter Amanda Akass.

The new Sexual Assault Referral Centre is based at the Oasis in Rivergate.

The facilities include two forensic examination rooms, where specially trained doctors would be able to take samples to use as evidence in court if a victim chooses to tell the police about his or her ordeal.

Detective Chief Inspector Melanie Dales, who's leading the project, said: "We can't get a conviction without forensic evidence, because we have to prove the offence took place.

Ideally, if you weren't sure if you wanted to come to the police, you could still come and get that medical examination and we could store those samples for as long as 15 years, to give you the time to decide what to do."

The centre also has two bath rooms, with showers, which have been specially decorated to feel as 'homely' as possible, two counselling rooms, and a lounge, which has toys and a fish tank in case any children have to come to the centre either in their own right or with a parent who has been assaulted.

The centre also offers emergency contraception and counselling. Previously all the different services offered to sexual assuault victims were spread out across the county - but now they're all under one roof.

Kay Elmy, who's the centre manager, said: " It's very much about client choice. They will be offered the opportunity to have a forensic examination whether they want to report it to the police or not. It gives them the time to stop and think about what to do....

"From the moment they enter the building there will be a Rape Crisis worker with them to support them during the examination. Within 24 hours of leaving the centre one of our independent sexual violence advisors would be in touch with them about their on-going care and support. 

"They'd be able to help them with access to appointments, or housing, or finance, whatever the issues are. That also includes going to court with them and sitting with them through police interviews from that moment on."

About 200 people are raped in Cambridgeshire every year.

If you have been a victim of rape or sexual assault and wish to access the centre call 0845 089 6262.

*not her real name

Click here for more news.


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