There is a desperate need for a Sexual Assault Referral Centre, say the organisers of a recent Reclaim These Streets protest, with traumatised victims "too frightened" to go to police because of low conviction rates.
That is the message signed off by Joey De Mouilpied, Sian Jones, Gwenllian Le Blond, Camille Brouard, Daisy Chapple and Joni Nettleship in an email to States Deputies ahead of the Government Work Plan debate, at which funding could be given to set up a SARC.
Deputies Yvonne Burford and Sasha Kazantseva-Miller want the States to commission a dedicated, open-all-hours support centre. A similar facility was created in Jersey in 2017 and has since helped hundreds of islanders at a time of crisis.
A report accompanying their amendment identified some gaping holes in the current system and suggests that the full extent of sexual abuse in Guernsey goes under-reported in the absence of specialist support.
As the Guernsey Women’s Collective, the organisers of the Reclaim These Streets event have conducted their own research, which has led to similar conclusions.
It has also led to direct contact with a teenager girl, who could not access support for two days after refusing to report an alleged sexual assault to Guernsey Police out of fear.
Pictured: Running a Sexual Assault Referral Centre is estimated to cost just shy of £200,000 a year.
"It was shocking to discover that there seem to be large gaps in the services and a general lack of communication when it comes to sign posting victims to the correct services.
"Since organising Reclaim These Streets Guernsey, we have been contacted by several women (who are too frightened to go to the police) with stories of recent sexual assaults asking us for assistance to find support.
"A recent example was a young woman in crisis who messaged us on a weekend to say that she had been sexually assaulted. She was traumatised and refused to go to the police, although we contacted various agencies on her behalf, we were unable to find anyone who would speak to the victim until the Monday.
"As she was only 16 years old, Victim Support were unable to help her. This upset us all deeply. There needs to be a provision in place for young people if they are sexually assaulted on a weekend. This clearly demonstrates how desperately a Sexual Assault Referral Centre is needed for assistance, evidence collection and counselling at a deeply traumatic time."
Pictured: A Sexual Assault Referral Centre has been proposed in order to fill some of the "critical gaps" in the crisis support available for victims and survivors of abuse. However, its funding in the GWP remains uncertain.
The services currently available include the Police's Public Protection Unit – a separate facility where interviews are conducted. Its officers are also trained in exhibit handling and are on call for evidence collection.
However, the Guernsey Women's Collective noted: "The problem is that traumatised victims are scared to speak to the police as they know chances of a conviction are very slim and are worried about pressing charges as in most cases the attacker is known to them."
Less than one in five victims of rape or assault reported their experience to the police, it concluded, of which only 1.4% reached court and led to a conviction.
Domestic abuse charity Safer provides support locally, as does the Victim Support charity for those aged 18+.
The Emergency Department is one place victims might go for medical assistance, however the Collective said there is "no privacy in the waiting room", while being seen is "very expensive" and a barrier to access.
For children, there is a Reparative Care Team, offering post-abuse therapy for sexual abuse victims aged 4-17; and the Multi Agency Support Hub, which can be referred to by anyone who works with children and has reason to believe a child is being abused.
However, the case for a SARC would provide a significant improvement to the support available when support is most needed, writes the Collective.
"SARCs are specialist medical and forensic services for anyone who has been raped or sexually assaulted:
Available to all – adults, young people, and children;
Anyone can self-refer and receive help immediately;
Comfortable private spaces for interviews and forensic examinations;
No pressure to press charges, the victim can take their time to decide whether to pursue a complaint to the police;
Sexual health and specialised counselling services, to ensure counselling support does not hinder a future court case;
Education about all forms of sexual violence to victims, supporters, and society;
Informing acknowledgement of, and effective responses to sexual violence and abuse
We, as a group believe that it is vitally important that the deputies approve the funding to get the SARC off the ground and running from the July budget debate
We firmly believe that a SARC is essential for all people of the Bailiwick."
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