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Asking and Telling about Sexual Violence in Sexual Health Services

It was fear that stopped me…. fear and I think, a deep kind of shock. I didn’t want this to have happened to me. I didn’t want to believe it had …I told K I hadn’t been raped.. I moved into the bottom of a well and I stayed there a long time”. First Person Account.

Sexual abuse and violence are common, rates are increasing, and yet criminal justice data shows most (85%) of the 3 in 100 female and 1 in 100 male survivors do not report it. Sexual Violence is known to be heavily targeted at particularly groups, women, racially minoritised groups, people with disabilities and people from the LGBTQ+ community. Rates amongst men are poorly understood as reporting for them is even harder. We need to better understand differences in experience but we know that it traces the outline of wider inequality in society. Services play a role in delivering both that inequality and its remedy

The harmful effects of sexual violence ripple across generations, affecting individuals' capacities to work, and participate in family and community life. The Home Office has costed £4.8 billion direct impact of rape in 2015/16 but this does not touch the persistent suffering experienced by many with other sexual offences estimated as costing 7.4bn.

Many survivors will seek help from sexual health services such as GUM clinics in the aftermath of an attack but most do not disclose at this point and are only asked about it in a few leading services. This represents a substantial unmet need and better identification of Sexual Violence survivors provides services with the opportunity to prevent the resulting harm.

Survivors have told us through Somerset and Avon Rape and Sexual Abuse Service (SARSAS) that there is a gap around what survivors’ need to see before they fee able to tell.

Existing evidence and practice tends to focus on asking about Domestic Violence by partners or ex-partners but not the wide range of coerced or unwanted sexual experiences that happen outside this definition. Experience of Sexual Violence overlaps but is different and requires specific evidence around how clinics need to address it.

The way clinics ask about Sexual Violence may not allow for people’s own struggles with making sense of a traumatic experience, with shame, stigma and blame in order to see what has happened to them as sexual violence.

There are examples of really good practice in sexual health clinics asking about sexual violence and then providing expert support for survivors such as the Umbrella service in Birmingham.

Many survivors go through sexual health services but neither tell or are asked if they have experienced sexual violence, a trauma that may go on to shadow the rest lives. Early intervention is possible but needs research. My work around this is aiming to find research funding in order to work with clinics at different stages of asking about sexual violence to see how best to try.

Want to know more? See my video, Listen to this podcast or read the stats or see this research on what works to prevent Gender Based Violence or Violence Against Women and Girls?

or read my new book #MeToo for Women and Men - covering the evidence around sexual violence/harassment (click through link)

@Dr Jane Meyrick May 2022


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