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17 June 2019, 08:56 | Updated: 17 June 2019, 09:01
A first-of-its-kind project has already helped hundreds of victims of sexual abuse and rape in Essex get access to specialist support more quickly.
The Synergy Essex First Responders (SFR) scheme is believed to be the only one in the country that gives victims access to support within one working day of reporting an offence to police.
The SFRs are a specially trained team able to provide initial support at the point someone reports a sexual offence to Essex Police.
This includes emotional support, detailed information about the criminal justice process, and providing access to specialist rape and sexual abuse counselling and advocacy services.
The project is the result of partnership work between Essex Police and the Essex rape and sexual abuse partnership Synergy Essex, and is being supported by the Essex Police, Fire, and Crime Commissioner.
The pilot project started on January 21 and within the first three months had already helped 279 people, with more than 150 people going on to engage with services.
One person who has benefited from the service said: "From reporting to police to the SFR contacting me was very, very quick.
"It was hard talking but it was good, because I was able to get a lot of things off my mind. I thought the SFR was brilliant, I knew they were helping me and they listened.
"I never realised the support was available. I think the SFRs and the police officers are doing a fantastic job, I don’t know what I would have done without the SFR ringing me.
"I have had very bad mental health for many years, but before I was sexually abused I was a happy normal boy.
"I was sexually abused as a child and raped, I have tried to hang myself about a year ago, I have taken about 20 overdoses, the last one was two weeks before the SFR called me.
"Before the SFR rang me my mind was racing but now I feel calmer, it is their calm voice and they give me time to talk, and helped me understand my feelings and explained how trauma can affect people. I feel my brain would have exploded as I hadn’t heard from the police yet.
"The SFR explained to me that this is why they are supporting me as the police have to do a lot of work because my case is from the past.
"From our last conversation I also had the courage to tell my sister, she was very shocked and asked me if that was why I have taken overdoses. I told her it was.
"It feels better that I have told her and she is going to support me too. I think everyone should know that there is brilliant support for people like me."
Detective Superintendent Jason Hendy, from Essex Police, said: "Despite our best efforts, before this project victims and survivors may have had to wait two weeks before being referred to specialist rape and sexual abuse support services, which is just too long.
"It takes a lot of courage to report these kinds of offences in the first place and they can have a massive psychological impact on the victim so it’s really important they’re able to get the support they need as quickly and as easily as possible.
"Victims of sexual offences have been through a traumatic experience and if they don’t get the right support it can leave them feeling isolated and unsure of what’s happening.
"This delay can also mean victims disengage from the process and, understandably, want to withdraw from the investigation.
"I strongly support the work of Synergy Essex who are able to provide that support and give victims and survivors choices and better outcomes."
The service is funded by a £136,110 grant from the Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner to help the Essex rape and sexual abuse partnership, Synergy Essex, respond to the increase in demand and offer specialist support from the moment victims report the incident to police.
The grant is in addition to the £680,000 funding provided before the rise in reported incidents.
Reports of sexual offences have increased both in Essex and across the country.
Before the project victims and survivors who were unable to support an investigation were not referred to specialist counselling support but that has now changed, meaning all victims have access to specialist support services.