West Yorkshire will finally have a support service for the victims of sexual assault under one roof from tomorrow, more than four years after being criticised for being one of the few areas in the country not to have one.
A Sexual Assault Referral Centre to help victims and survivors of sexual offences in the county is being launched this week, funded on a 50/50 basis by West Yorkshire’s police and crime commissioner and the NHS.
Sexual Assault Referral Centres (SARCs) have opened in virtually every force area in the country but authorities in West Yorkshire have been unable to deliver the same level of support despite official efforts - including a tendering process - beginning as far back as 2011.
Medics from Leeds Community Healthcare Trust will be available for assessments and staff from the ‘Surviving Trauma After Rape’ project will be permanently housed in the building at an undisclosed location.
Previously a forensic medical examination centre, run by West Yorkshire Police and private company Serco, has been based at a different site to other support services.
SARCs provide a specialist ‘one-stop shop’ for victims, and have been lauded for offering a safe haven for victims who are able to report what has happened without having to go directly to the police - a step which can initially be too daunting.
Baroness Stern, whose 2010 report on rape is considered the benchmark for how authorities should respond to the offence, last year described West Yorkshire’s failure to secure a SARC as a “huge pity” and added that “West Yorkshire is really way behind if they haven’t got one”.
In response to the news that West Yorkshire now has a SARC, she said: “Every victim of sexual assault should have speedy access to a high quality health care response in a setting that is truly victim-centred.
“That is why many places in the country now have Sexual Assault Referral Centres which provide such services to victims. So the news that a SARC has at last opened for victims in West Yorkshire is very welcome indeed.”
Police and crime commissioner Mark Burns-Williamson said the new service under one roof was something “we have been searching for, for some time”.
He said: “In a sense we were trying to provide that service but it was fragmented because we didn’t have the service under one roof.
“There has been a real commitment by police, working with our partners in the rape crisis centre, to provide a service. Clearly this is a real step forward.
“It will be a 24-hour service. There will be a messaging service to make appointments. It will be comparable and hopefully better than services that are about currently.”
The region’s four police forces had hoped to put Sexual Assault Referral Centre services out to tender in August with the aim of appointing a single provider across Yorkshire.
But the process ended in October with a single tender having been received, and that bidder, Rotherham NHS Foundation Trust, later withdrew.
Having one provider across Yorkshire is seen as more cost-effective and bosses still hope to arrange a region-wide contract from April 1, 2016. West Yorkshire’s SARC contract will last for 12 months.
Other SARC services in Yorkshire, including North Yorkshire’s, based at Bridge House in York, will remain the same from tomorrow.