New study will review support offered to sex assault victims
9 August 2018
Researchers will speak to around 1,000 sexual assault victims to understand how the support they receive affects their long-term health and wellbeing.
The information will be collected as part of a four-year project, led by Coventry University and involving researchers from the University Bristol, to evaluate the work of sexual assault referral centres (SARCs) in England.
The centres offer a first point of call for victims of rape or sexual assault, and do not require a person to report abuse to the police. They aim to provide an immediate, supportive response, as well as the option of forensic medical examination, assessment of sexual health needs and spaces for interviews, if necessary.
The £1.3 million National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) funded project will be the largest UK study to explore a wide range of aspects about how these centres work, the interventions and support they offer, their workforce, the technologies they use, and the wider sexual assault services context.
Interviews with sexual assault survivors aim to find out about their experiences of accessing support at the centres and investigate whether interventions and services offered by centres help reduce the risk of post-traumatic stress disorder and other health problems in the long-run.
The project will include interviewing around 30 children aged 13 to 15 years old who have been victims of sexual violence.
It will also look into the issue of what can be done enable hard-to-reach groups – including men, those from lesbian gay bisexual trans-sexual (LGBT) and black and minority ethnic (BME) communities, people with mental health conditions or disability, and those in long-term abusive relationships – to access more support as they are among the least likely people to visit SARCs.
Researchers say there is currently no national evidence on the effectiveness of these centres and also that there are big variations in the services SARCs provide.
They will make recommendations based on their findings on the best ways for the centres to care for people and what support should be offered to victims, with the aim of improving services and long-term benefits for the people who use the centres.
One in five women and one in 25 men have experienced some type of sexual assault since the age of 16, equivalent to an estimated 3.4 million female victims and 631,000 male victims, according to latest figures from the Crime Survey for England and Wales.
"We know that sexual violence has devastating effects on adult and child victims, their families, and communities.
"But what we need is more evidence to show the impacts that exposure to sexual violence has on people’s physical, sexual and mental health over time, including how people respond to different support and interventions.
"SARCs have potential to bring wider benefits to the community by raising awareness of sexual violence and increasing visibility of sexual assault support services, reducing stigma, and giving a voice to survivors. Our research will thoroughly explore how these centres work and their impact on victims so we can make recommendations about what they should do in the future to help people even more."
Professor Gene Feder, from the University of Bristol’s Centre for Academic Primary Care, said:
"Sexual abuse by a husband or partner is a part of domestic violence that is often hidden and even more difficult to disclose to health care professionals than other types of abuse.
"Women experiencing sexual violence in a relationship often do not know where to get help, generally not using sexual assault services.
"In this programme of research we will gather evidence for how best to support survivors of sexual violence and how services can to respond to the needs of women experiencing this violence within a relationship."
Project partners are Universities of Birmingham and Bristol, Coventry Rape and Sexual Assault Centre (CRASAC), Juniper Lodge SARC, University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust (lead NHS partner). Researchers will also be collaborating with the Rape and Sexual Violence Project (RSVP) and Survivors in Transition (SiT) - charities that support survivors of sexual violence.
About the Centre for Academic Primary Care
The Centre for Academic Primary Care (CAPC) at the University of Bristol is a leading centre for primary care research in the UK, one of nine forming the NIHR School for Primary Care Research. It sits within Bristol Medical School, an internationally recognised centre of excellence for population health research and teaching. Follow us on Twitter: @capcbristol.
About the National Institute for Health Research
The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR): improving the health and wealth of the nation through research.
Established by the Department of Health and Social Care, the NIHR:
- funds high quality research to improve health
- trains and supports health researchers
- provides world-class research facilities
- works with the life sciences industry and charities to benefit all
- involves patients and the public at every step
For further information, visit the NIHR website www.nihr.ac.uk