CAMPAIGNERS have long been advocating a change in the treatment of rape victims, sexual assault referral centres are the product of this view.

There are currently six centres known as SARCs in Wales of which four are run by New Pathways, a charitable company which provides a range of services for women, men, children and young people who have been affected by rape or sexual abuse.

The SARC in Risca was opened in 2007 as the second centre in Wales behind Merthyr Tydfil. The centre is a facility where recent victims of rape or sexual assault can receive immediate help and support including access to a forensic medical examination and the opportunity to speak to the police if they wish to do so.

The centre’s services can be accessed 24 hours a day, every day of the year, including all public holidays. The charity who have been running for 21 years offer a confidential phone line for clients to get in touch.

Jackie Stamp, chief executive of New Pathways, said: “There has been a vast improvement on the treatment of rape victims. In the early days people had to report a rape to the police station and then taken to a hospital to be examined.

“In terms of the practical approach the services are all here. New Pathway’s staff liaise with clients throughout the process, we talk to the police, CPS and courts. We are their point of contact.

“The client feedback has had a dramatical improvement. Historically the feedback from clients has been that the process of reporting has almost been as bad as the rape.

“The feedback has been very positive, almost 100 per cent positive.”

The charity work closely with a specialist team of sexual offence liaison officers within Gwent Police. The centre has a full police interview suite which consists of a comfortable interview room with discreet cameras, microphones and full recording facilities.

Detective Sergeant Emma Brown, of Gwent Police, said: “The work of New Pathways is invaluable providing one to one advocacy and support for men, women, young people and children who have been affected by rape or sexual abuse. Their crisis workers, who are available 24/7, provide an immediate service to victims and they link in with various other agencies to provide whatever support may be needed including medical and housing.

“We have specialist sexual offences liaison officers who work across the force area and are trained in this specific area of crime. They act as the first point of police contact for a victim and work closely with New Pathways and medical professionals within the SARC unit.

“We understand that victims may not always want to involve the police and, therefore, New Pathways is able to take on this role. The unit allows all the agencies to take victims of such crimes to one location where they will be offered all the support they need in a comfortable environment.”

The four SARC centres run by New Pathway’s last year had 1,060 rape referrals. The charity operate on a three stage approach, the first is crisis intervention with a 24 hour hotline who will then meet the client at the centre.

The SARC member of staff will then go through the medical examiner and police referral if needed. The second stage is supporting the person prior to court, they will act as a sexual health advocate, whether on the phone or face to face contact.

The third stage is counselling, whether a person needs further support.

Ms Stamp said: “Its a long term initiative. Sometimes the court process can take up to 18 months. The SARC staff are here to help support people through.

“Self referral is the biggest thing we need to get across to general public. People can phone us directly.

“We can do medical examinations and store the forensics for up to seven years. The forensic evidence is safely stored in freezers and dry storage. The majority come forward without having to contact the police.”

In 2006 there were 11 SARCs in England and only one in Wales. New Pathways has since set up four centres which Ms Stamp believes has improved the treatment of rape victims in south Wales.

She said: “It’s lots better than it was, areas with SARCs have a better service for rape victims. This is where it needs to be. The self referral capacity is a huge advantage.”

For more information phone 01685 379 310, email or tweet @newpathways