What is the problem being addressed?

Sexual assault is a serious problem in society which often goes unreported. A report, by the Ministry of Justice, the Home office and the Office of National Statistics, showed that approximately 85,000 women and 12,000 men are raped in England and Wales alone every year, with nearly half a million adults are sexually assaulted in England and Wales each year. 

1 in 5 women and 1 in 25 men have experienced some form of sexual violence since the age of 16; only around 15% of those who experience sexual violence choose to report to the police and approximately 90% of those who are raped know the perpetrator prior to the offence.

Sexual Assault Referral Centres (SARCs) are places where people who have experienced sexual assault get support including forensic examinations and health checks as well as mental health/psychological support. There are 43 SARCs and they are commissioned by NHS England in partnership with criminal justice and third sector.

Why is the research important?

People who have mental health or substance use difficulties are more likely to experience sexual violence. It has been estimated that approximately 40% of those presenting to SARCs have a pre-existing mental health problem. Those without mental health problems at presentation to a SARCs, are more likely to go on to develop depression, anxiety, PTSD, substance misuse, self-harm or suicidal feelings. Of people who experience abuse under the age of 16, half also reported abuse over the age of sixteen. As such expert mental health in SARCs is crucial. However, little is known about the help people who have experienced sexual assault can get for any mental health or substance misuse difficulties they may have when they attend a SARC.

Why is this research is needed now?

Mental health represents is one of the biggest health problems in the UK yet the services for people with mental health difficulties is often lacking. It is currently unclear what mental health support and treatment is available at SARCs and whether people at risk of psychological problems are able to access the right kinds of treatment when they need it. This study will aim to look at the mental health services available for SARC service users, what is being done well and what could be improved.