Bridge House is a Sexual Assault Referral Centre in North Yorkshire and the City of York. We provide a dedicated service for men or women who have been raped or sexually assaulted recently or in the past.
Ann (her name has been changed) is a victim of historical sexual abuse, here she tells how Bridge House has helped her move on, 40 years after she was abused.
I found out about the SARC following some information in a newspaper. I had been working with my therapist for a few years in relation to historical sexual abuse and had been considering going to the police, but was concerned about the process and the consequences of reporting it. Thoughts such as ‘would I be out of control?’ ‘would I find myself in a situation I did not want to be in?’ went through my head.
I self-referred to SARC and visited the centre not knowing what to expect. I was greeted by a warm and professional welcome from Sarah the SARC Manager and reassured that the police would not visit the centre while I was there.
During the first visit I was shown around the centre – including the interview room – which I found very daunting even though it is like a sitting room, with sofas etc.
I was able to give my account of what happened and at no time did I feel rushed or under pressure. I was fully informed of what happened to the information and at no time felt any pressure to report it to the police.
I asked lots of questions and many were answered at the time, but any that were not the member of staff came back with a response.
I was asked if I wanted to consent to having the alleged offender’s information put on the police data base so it could be checked to see if any other information about him was held. It would be anonymous and I could not be traced by the police. This was really important to me as I feared he may have abused others, but I was not at a point of wanting to report.
I was given a couple of days to think about this although I was sure it was something I wanted to do, I just needed some time to think.
The centre gave me a stepping stone between thinking about reporting to actually reporting.
I visited the centre several times, always seeing the SARC Manager and became familiar with the surroundings. I went back into the interview room and sat down for a short while, but found it oppressive and difficult to stay in there.
The next time I visited I took a friend and we sat in the interview room to talk and have a coffee, at the end of that time I felt comfortable in the room.
I then went back to the centre again and reported the crimes to the police. What was an extremely difficult and stressful event, however it was made easier by the familiarity of the surroundings and support of the SARC Manager, a familiar face was consistent throughout.
The SARC Manager also made the appointment with the police and this meant I did not have to pick up the phone to the police and start the process. That was really important as it takes a lot of courage to make that call.
The centre can refer you for support such as counselling, which I was offered, but as I already had this in place I declined.
I have received support and advice from the centre throughout this process and know I can call and leave a message and they will come back to me. No question is too stupid to ask and things are always explained.
The centre made a huge difference to my experience of reporting and feeling safe and in the ways described above.
I would definitely recommend the centre to others, you have nothing to lose by going there and so much to gain.
Laura (her name has been changed) was a victim of rape two years ago. Here she tells how the SARC services at Bridge House have been invaluable and have helped her move forward after a very traumatic time in her life…
The SARC service was recommended to me through my Independent Sexual Violence Advisor (ISVA). I originally found out about the service through Victim Support, but it took me a long time to be able to build up my confidence to face the issues I had and begin to tackle them.
Since engaging with SARC, I have found the service to be invaluable. I have finally managed to pluck up the courage to start taking the baby steps I have always wanted to take, but previously felt too pressurised to take via a police investigation.
There was a point after the incident when I just needed to take a step back and assess my life, everything I formerly knew had been tipped upside down and I felt that I needed to prioritise my life and work through things one-by-one. I knew my life would never be the same, but it was up to me to claw back as much as I could.
Just after the incident, I didn’t feel as though I had time to gather myself and register what had happened and the entire process seemed to be geared to a timetable and not the victim. I was petrified that somebody I hadn’t consented to had taken away every shred of my pride, dignity, modesty and confidence and I was not ready to be taken to see a stranger to fulfil the necessary medical tests.
Engaging with the SARC has given me the ability to address the issues that I ran away from when I felt isolated, lonely and scared. I feel supported by my SARC officer, and I now feel ready to take as many steps as I can to get the closure I need. After a couple of years of being an emotional wreck, I have a bit more positive control back in my life.
I would definitely recommend the SARC service to anybody. I have found it to be a friendly and professional service which has helped me take the steps I have been terrified of taking for years. If the SARC service had been available at the time I was assaulted, I would have taken a completely different path from the start. If I could go back now, I would do everything differently.
Now that the SARC service has been set up for people in North Yorkshire and York, I urge other victims to use it and would do anything within my means to help spread the word of the SARC service and help people in a similar situation to what I was in. Just to know that there is a friendly face there to help you would be a massive help.
Jane (her name has been changed) tells how Bridge House helped her daughter and her family when her daughter became the victim of a sexual assault:
From the onset of a serious sexual incident involving our daughter, we were introduced to Bridge House.
After considering the detailed information given to us about the centre, our daughter decided that she would like to make use of the valuable service they offer to allow her time to think about whether or not she would report the incident to the police.
The staff at the SARC were able to obtain relevant evidence including evidence from a medical examination which was then stored and will be kept for up to seven years.
This service gave our daughter time to think, which in her case was very important to her. She wanted to consider various aspect of what it would involve and come to a decision in her own time as to whether she would report the incident to the police.
As a family, we were all given support in terms of advice and what further tests were required. We were referred to relevant external organisation and our daughter also used the services of a sexual health clinic through the SARC.
Through her own choice, our daughter was introduced to an Independent Sexual Violence Advisor (ISVA) who has been able to provide long-term emotional support on our daughter’s journey in coming to terms with her ordeal.
We feel our experiences with the SARC and ISVA were positive despite the difficult circumstances we were under. The staff helped us feel welcome and at ease and focused on the physical and emotional needs of both our daughter and us as a family.
The staff at the centre were very approachable, sensitive, prompt and remained professional at all times, providing us with detailed information which allowed our daughter to make her own choices in her own time.
After some weeks our daughter decided she would like to report the incident to the police. The ISVA was very supportive during this time, answering any questions which arose. She kept us fully informed and up to date in terms of any information regarding the police process, preparing the victim and US as a family for what may or may not occur. This gave us, as a family, more confidence knowing what to expect in order to support our daughter.
Even though this case is now closed, our daughter continues to receive support through the ISVA. Also, we as a family, have continuous access to support if and when required.