Bedfordshire Police yesterday (10 February 2020) unveiled its new Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC). The facility will provide services to victims of sexual assault, by providing them with a safe place to receive forensic examinations, medical aftercare, support, and somewhere that victims can report sexual assaults anonymously.
Services at the new SARC will be provided by a partnership between Bedfordshire Police, NHS and Mountain Healthcare Ltd.
The current SARC is part of a medical centre in Bedford. Bedfordshire Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC), Kathryn Holloway said that one of her early ambitions when she was elected was to open a brand new SARC outside of a hospital environment. She also wanted it to be based in a more central location.
The specially designed replacement is based in an anonymous building in Central Bedfordshire. It was also very important that the design ensured that that a victim didn’t feel like they are entering a police station or a hospital.
With this new SARC, going through the front door is like entering a show home. The PCC took the lead in the design of the non-medical rooms, she said: “you can’t interior design by committee“.
A calming colour scheme wasn’t the only requirement demanded by the PCC. She wanted to ensure that there were age-appropriate rooms.
She recalled her experience in hospital as a 14-year-old when she was placed in a children’s ward with nursery rhymes on the wall. This, she admitted, made her uncooperative with the doctors and nurses.
“If teenagers visit the SARC after having been through some of the most traumatic experiences imaginable, that instead of putting them into the situation I was in, they would have their own space and wouldn’t be sitting among children’s toys.”
Support for as long that it is needed
Support is also available after the client leaves the safe environment of the SARC. The PCC said:
“They will also have the support of another service I set up which is the Signpost Victim Support Service
“Not only will they have the opportunity to return to the SARC for counselling support but should they feel that they need additional help and somebody to speak to they can call the Signpost Hub.
“We have tried to give support immediately after the incident through the period examination and giving evidence if they choose to do so.”
Although those using the SARC do not have to speak to a police officer, detectives will be working on-site. The officers will enter the SARC through a side-door and will only become known if a victim wishes to make a report.
The SARC will be funded 50:50 with NHS England, which commissions the services, based on its Sexual Assault and Abuse Strategy, needed by the survivors of sexual assault.
Clare Weston, NHS Head of Health and Justice (East of England), said:
“This [facility] has clearly been designed and executed with survivors in mind. Which is absolutely essential given the distressing experience that they have had.”
“I’m more proud of this than anything else I have done in the whole of my four-year term as PCC.”