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14 January 2011, 00:00
The highly praised Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) at Crawley Hospital, which offers enhanced care and support for victims, is officially two years old on Friday
Since opening its doors in 2009, 706 people have sought help and advice from the SARC, known as the Saturn Centre. Of those using the service 664 were women, 42 were men and 176 have been young people under the age of 18.
Some 99 people have used the Saturn Centre without reporting their assault to the police; these victims have been sexually assaulted but do not know whether they want there to be a criminal investigation. But by making direct contact with the centre they can access the forensic and health medical services - as well as the practical and emotional support - that is available. With the right information and support, some people choose to then report the assault to police and an investigation can begin.
Detective Sergeant Wendy Vodrey, from Sussex Police's Specialist Investigation Branch, said: "We have come a long way since the Saturn Centre first opened. Sometimes it can be difficult for staff from different organisations to work under the same roof but at the Saturn Centre everyone understands their own and each others' roles and the welfare of the clients is everyone's priority.
"There is a much greater understanding by the Saturn Centre staff of how difficult it can be for someone to talk about being sexually assaulted. We hope that the public are beginning to understand that the police response to rape and sexual assault has developed significantly in recent years and a much more empathetic and professional service is given.
"Some police officers are identified for enhanced training so that they can be the first to meet a victim of sexual crime and begin a professional investigation. The facilities at the Saturn Centre are a key part of that investigation."
When there is a report of a rape or sexual assault, the victim will be spoken to by a trained Rape Crisis Support Worker, who as well as providing reassurance and comfort will give a brief overview of what happens at the SARC. The victim will then be medically examined (if appropriate), given the opportunity to provide an interview or statement to police, and linked in with other key services such as counselling and sexual health - all at one location.
The SARC is managed by a multi-agency board comprising Sussex Police, West Sussex, East Sussex and Brighton & Hove Primary Care Trusts, and the three local authorities. It is also funded jointly by these seven organisations.
The centre not only provides high quality care for victims but improved forensic evidence which has the potential to bring more offenders to justice, increased reporting because of the high level of support offered to victims and access to intelligence from self-referrals.
PC Victoria Bailey is a trained Sexual Offences Liaison Officer for Sussex Police. She said: "I have attended the Saturn Centre on numerous occasions and have never had a bad experience. I cannot fault the 'bedside manner' of any of the doctors and I would feel comfortable talking to any of them should I ever be in that position.
"However, it is the support workers who really make the place welcoming. They are very friendly and always there to support victims in whichever way they can. They offer a shoulder to cry on or just someone to talk to. With the Saturn Centre now offering access to treatment for sexually transmitted infections, the Saturn Centre offers the best possible victim care with all medical actions being completed as soon possible."