The campaign comes after NHS England found that the number of people seeking support from its sexual assault referral centres (SARCs) dropped during the first national lockdown in 2020, despite incidents of domestic abuse and sexual assault rising.

Victims and survivors of sexual and domestic abuse are being encouraged to seek help from the NHS as part of a new campaign aimed at raising awareness of the support offered by the numerous sexual assault referral centres (SARCs) across England.

The campaign – which has been backed by figures including the former prime minister Theresa May and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall – is being accompanied by a £20m boost to specialist services and the creation of two new clinical lead roles for domestic abuse and sexual assault.

Launched on the first day of Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence Awareness Week (7 February), the campaign aims to increase the number of people who seek help through the NHS’ SARCs, which offer confidential specialist, practical, medical and emotional support to anyone who has been raped, sexually assaulted or abused – regardless of when the incident happened. 

It comes after a new survey of 4,000 people in England found that 72% of people are unaware of NHS specialist sexual assault services, and that over half (56%) of people who’ve been sexually assaulted or abused have not sought any help or support.

Kate Davies CBE, the NHS director of sexual assault services commissioning, said the NHS wanted to make it clear where victims and survivors can turn to for help.

“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,” she explained. “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.” 

She continued: “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.”

A number of organisations and charities who work closely with SARCs across the country, including The Survivors Trust, the Male Survivors Partnership and SafeLives, are also backing the campaign.

A powerful short film addressing the common questions and concerns many people face after experiencing sexual assault, abuse or rape – including not knowing who or where to turn to – is also being released as part of the push to make people more aware of the services. 

The campaign has been launched in light of a fall in the number of people seeking help from NHS SARCs during the first national lockdown in 2020, despite official figures showing that incidents of domestic abuse and sexual assault increased during that time.

28-year-old Laura Currer, from Newcastle, turned to a SARC after she was spiked and sexually assaulted while on a night out with friends in 2015. Now chair of the National NHS England Sexual Abuse and Assault Services Lived Experience Group, Laura wants to raise awareness of the support available so more victims and survivors can receive the help they need to move forward.

“I know from my 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,” she said.      

“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.”

She continued: “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.”

Sexual assault referral centres provide a safe space and dedicated care for people who have been raped, sexually assaulted, or abused. If you have been raped, sexually assaulted or abused and don’t know where to turn, search “sexual assault referral centres” to find out more or visit to find your nearest service. 

Image: Getty

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