Duchess of Cornwall and Theresa May back new campaign urging abuse survivors to seek help

A new campaign, supported by the Duchess of Cornwall and former Prime Minister Theresa May, has been launched to encourage victims and survivors of sexual and domestic abuse to come forward for help through the NHS.

It comes on the first day of Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence Awareness Week and is backed by a £20 million boost to specialist services, NHS England (NHSE) said.

The campaign aims to highlight the support offered at dozens of sexual assault referral centres (SARCs) in England, while the NHS is also creating two new clinical lead roles for domestic violence and sexual assault.

NHSE said the 24-hour centres offer confidential specialist, practical, medical and emotional support to anyone who has been raped, sexually assaulted, or abused – no matter when it happened.

Welcoming the campaign, Mrs May said victims of sexual assault and abuse need to know “the NHS is there for them”.

She said: “Sadly incidents of domestic abuse and sexual assault increased during lockdown and the extra funding for services for victims of abuse and sexual violence is much needed.

“Dedicated domestic violence support for the NHS and integrated care systems is particularly welcome as local medical care plays an important role in identifying abuse and supporting victims.”

Camilla has been speaking out to highlight the issue of domestic abuse for a number of years, and NHSE said she will visit a centre this week to meet survivors of sexual assault to hear more about their experiences and the care they receive through SARCs.

As part of the campaign, which is supported by organisations and charities including The Survivors Trust, SafeLives and the Male Survivors Partnership, a short video raising awareness of the help offered by specialist centres has been released.

NHSE said despite official figures showing that domestic abuse and sexual assault had increased in the pandemic, the number of people receiving help from SARCs halved after the first lockdown compared to 2019.

Laura Currer, chair of the national NHS England sexual abuse and assault services lived experience group, said: “I know from experience how hard it can be to seek help in these situations, but after I was assaulted I will never forget the kind, caring and compassionate staff at SARCs who were there to hold my hand during one of the worst moments of my life.

“They explained the whole process to me, and gave me the space and autonomy over my body that my attackers had taken away, and I will be forever grateful.

“I urge anyone who needs support, no matter when it took place, to come forward – you are not alone, and the wonderful teams at SARCs are there to help 24/7.”

Kate Davies, NHS director of sexual assault services commissioning, said: “Sexual assault or domestic abuse can happen to anyone – any age, ethnicity, gender or social circumstance – and it may be a one-off event or happen repeatedly.

“But sadly, thousands of people aren’t sure where to turn to get the help they need, and today the NHS is making it clear that you can turn to us.

“We provide confidential emotional, medical or practical support at our sexual assault referral centres, a dedicated safe space for anyone who needs it, regardless of when the incident happened.

“We know it can take a lot to pick up the phone and take that first step – we are here at any time of day or night, and we will support you through the whole process, whatever you decide to do.”

Visit www.nhs.uk/SARCs to find out more.

Copyright (c) PA Media Ltd. 2022, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Leon Neal / PA.