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23 June 2008

Struggling to help rape victims

The struggle one Sexual Assault Referral Centre is having to operate - a fight that is replicated ac

By Jacqui Bowman

It is well established, particularly in these pages, that sexual abuse and violence can have a huge impact on individuals and those around them. Greater minds than mine have written far more eloquently on this subject so I need not rehearse the arguments.

At Derbyshire Rape Crisis (DRC), a charity and voluntary agency, we see anyone over the age of 14, for recent or historic abuse. We are unusual in being able to do this, and the package of services we offer is unique in our county, and rare in the country. The majority of our clients have complex needs, and we support approximately 270 people across all of our services in any one month. Around 40 per cent of those will be new contacts. Referrals into DRC from schools, GPs, mental health professionals, the police and other agencies have increased significantly, leading to a 150 per cent increase in the number of clients we see for counselling in two years.

Millfield House Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) was set up as a partnership between DRC and Derbyshire Police in late 2005. At the time it was only the second SARC with voluntary agency involvement, and the first to have a strategic partnership between statutory and voluntary bodies.

It has worked extremely well. The police are responsible for the premises, specialist officers and forensic issues, DRC employs the Co-Ordinator, administrator, crisis workers and independent sexual violence advisor, financed through applications to funding bodies. Millfield House has seen almost 600 individuals since it opened, and 2007 saw a 135 per cent increase in service use from 2006. The relationship between DRC and the Police is mutually beneficial, and provides access to tailored support to any person coming forward to either organisation.

This all sounds very positive, and indeed it is, to an extent. Derbyshire is providing a high standard of care to survivors of sexual violence, and is at the forefront of new developments in this area. Millfield House is an exemplar of how a statutory body and a voluntary agency can come together to provide a better joined up service for clients, whilst still retaining individuality, autonomy and independence. As individual organisations, DRC and the police are both constantly reviewing progress, and looking to see how we can improve further. It’s at this point though, that we’ve hit a barrier.

Funders who are accessible to us as Rape Crisis are moving away from funding Millfield House because they see it as a statutory responsibility. The Government has placed significant emphasis on the importance of health involvement with SARCs, and yet Millfield House, one of the country’s first SARCs, has no involvement from local PCTs, the strategic health authority, or mental health trusts.

The government has also placed emphasis on agencies such as councils, Community Safety Partnerships and Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnerships taking on responsibility for funding SARC’s. This is not the case with Millfield House at present. It seems DRC’s prior success in attracting charity funding has allowed local bodies to receive services without putting in any support. This can’t continue, both financially and strategically. Millfield House provides services county wide. It needs to be supported by that county.

We need local statutory agencies to commit to sustaining Derbyshire’s sexual violence support services. We understand that money is tight, we are after all a voluntary agency. We also understand that from a statistical point of view, sexual offences make up a small percentage of recorded crime. This is not the issue. The issue is that the impact of sexual offences can be seen on an individual and a societal level, and that effective support can significantly reduce negative outcomes. It’s time for Derbyshire to come to the table and commit to supporting SARC services for its population, before it loses them.

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