While making the decision to report sex crimes to the police is something that can understandably take months, years or even decades for some, the window in which to take vital DNA evidence that could help secure a conviction for such an offence is just seven days.
It is for precisely that reason that staff at the South Yorkshire Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) in Hackenthorpe have launched an awareness project that not only highlights the fact that abuse victims can bypass the police and refer themselves through a self-referral pathway.
Through the project, the team also hope to make people aware that forensic evidence taken can be securely stored for seven years should they wish to report the incident to the police at a later date, as well as looking at public awareness of SARCs and how to access them.
This comes after a recent survey revealed that only eight per cent of people taking part would think to contact their local SARC.
SARC crisis worker and counsellor Kathryn Fletcher, helped to develop the campaign with colleagues Nadia Cox and Ninda Randhawa, and says that although going to the police in the first instance is the right option for some, for others, being able to access the wide range of services the centre offers first can be invaluable.
"With a lot of people we've spoken to they were saying they wished they'd known about being able to self-refer beforehand, because a lot of people don't come forward because they weren't in the right frame of mind to do that when it happened," said Kathryn.
The team have also been working with Rotherham MP Sarah Champion, who has been promoting the project as part of a domestic violence bill that is due to be voted on in Parliament.
"We've actually been invited to go down to Parliament with Sarah to see it being discussed," said Kathryn.
Crisis worker, Ninda Randhawa, added: “We are very pleased that some people feel comfortable in reporting their experiences directly to the police and, as a result, get the help and support they need from us. However, rape and sexual assault crimes are still massively under-reported, and so many people just aren’t aware of our SARC services or how to access them.”
The self-referral pathway allows those who have experienced rape and sexual assault to make an appointment, which can be done anonymously if they wish, to visit Hackenthorpe Lodge SARC, without police involvement.
Clients will receive important healthcare, support and guidance from a crisis worker and a specially-trained nurse.
One person who self-referred themself to access SARC's services said: “The SARC empowered me to say ‘no’, and to do something about the situation and report.”
The awareness campaign was nominated in the Mountain Healthcare Ltd ‘Quality Improvement Project Awards’, and the team were placed runner-up out of a number of high-calibre projects.
The state-of-the-art facility at Hackenthorpe Lodge opened in April 2016, after moving from Rotherham General Hospital.