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As she opens the Saint Mary’s Sexual Assault Referral Centre Annual Conference, Kate Davies details the work being done to improve care and support:
Sexual assault and abuse are two of the most serious and damaging crimes in our society.
Yet it is estimated that up to 80 per cent of incidents are unreported and as few as 28 per cent of victims make a complaint to the police. Furthermore, over a third of rape victims and half of female victims of other sexual offences are under 16.
Whilst for many these may be merely facts and figures, for others these are an horrific reality – a reality which I have learnt about from the brave victims and survivors of sexual assault and abuse who have come forward to help NHS England develop the Strategic direction for sexual assault and abuse services.
This is a landmark document, setting out a vision to help improve health service provision and care for those who have suffered sexual assault and abuse.
This follows months of engaging and working with a wide range of organisations, the victims and survivors of sexual assault and abuse and those who support them, to co-develop a framework of guidance to ensure appropriate and timely access to lifelong care.
Focused around six key priorities, the strategy looks at how services need to evolve to ensure that as much as possible can be done to encourage and empower the victims and survivors of sexual assault and abuse to seek help, whilst protecting and supporting them now and in years to come.
Although often seen as a difficult subject to approach, I have been overwhelmed by the willingness of people to share their horrendous experiences, and humbled by their determination to make things better so others will not have to suffer as they have.
It is not acceptable that many victims and survivors wait a long time for help or are unaware of what services are available to provide them with much needed care and support. This can lead to feelings of neglect and despair, which in some cases are further exacerbated by their needs being poorly recognised when they do finally receive support.
Whilst there are some fantastic examples of services for victims and survivors of sexual assault and abuse taking positive steps to work collaboratively and improve quality, there is still more to do. Every organisation involved in the delivery of sexual assault and abuse services has a responsibility to help stop these crimes from happening. Together, we need to ensure that good practice is shared and a cycle of continuous improvement is embedded, so that service delivery is consistent, variation reduced and ultimately service user experience and health and social outcomes improved.
The priorities set out in the Strategic direction provide us with a framework to help achieve this in terms of strengthening our approach to prevention; promoting safeguarding and the safety, protection and welfare of victims and survivors; involving them in the development and improvement of services; introducing consistent quality standards; driving collaboration and reducing fragmentation; and ensuring the workforce is appropriately trained. Some of this is already taking place, whilst others need progressing in order to make our vision a reality.
This means improving access to better trauma informed care and support throughout their lifetime, particularly when disclosing and in crisis; being protected to help ensure their ongoing safety and reduce the risk of future re-victimisation; receiving dedicated, high quality and joined up care and support from a range of organisations; getting support and treatment to help them heal and rebuild their lives from sexual assault and abuse experts; and having access to appropriate information on which services are available now and throughout their lifetime.
Our strategy is only a first step, but it’s a crucial development, which we hope will ensure that we are able to offer much stronger and sustainable services for anyone who has suffered sexual assault and abuse, and improve their experience and health and social outcomes now and in years to come.