Victims of sexual violence are now able again to access to specialist Sexual Assault Referral Centres (SARCs) in Devon and Cornwall, without having to report the crime first.

The Cove (Plymouth) and The Willow Centre (Cornwall) are expecting a sharp increase in victims and survivors coming forward for medical and emotional support.

Tom Dingwall, Chief Executive of First Light said, “This important development will enable more people to receive specialist support at a traumatic time. There should be no barriers to help in a crisis. We are calling on the government to honour its pre-election pledge to support the most vulnerable victims of assault and abuse, by committing to fund specialist services for victims of sexual violence all over the country – for women and men.”

Sexual Assault Referral Centres (SARCs) are part of the government’s statutory provision for victims of sexual violence, and are commissioned by NHS England. Although self-referrals were previously a, since 2013 only police referrals have been accepted.

The 2013-14 Crime Survey for England and Wales indicates that only 15% of rapes are reported, with the majority of people citing embarrassment, fear of more humiliation and fear of not being believed.

According to the most recent HMIC Rape Monitoring Group report, 592 rapes were recorded in Devon and Cornwall last year. If this only represents 15% of the total rapes that occurred, another 3,355 victims and survivors did not report the sexual assault – and therefore did not receive support from a SARC.

Forensic evidence can be taken up to ten days after the assault, and stored for up to 12 months, giving the victim and survivor time to make a decision on whether or not to report the crime.  If they do decide to report, they can do so with the help of an Independent Sexual Violence Advisor (ISVA), who will also support them through the court case and beyond.

Victims of sexual assault in Devon and Cornwall are encouraged to contact their nearest SARC:

The Cove, Plymouth: 03458 12 12 12

The Willow Centre: Truro 01872 272 059

The Oak Centre, Exeter: 01392 436967