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NHS Shetland and The Compass Centre raise awareness of Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) as part of Sexual Health Awareness Week

The Compass Centre and NHS Shetland are raising awareness of Shetland's Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) as part of Sexual Health Awareness Week (11th - 17th September).

The SARC is a service for anyone who has experienced rape and/or sexual assault in Shetland which allows for the collection of forensic medical evidence on Isle. This service was opened at the Gilbert Bain Hospital in Lerwick in April 2022 and was the first of it's kind in Shetland.


Andrea Sherwood, Lead Sexual Health Nurse at NHS Shetland, said that the SARC service, in it's first year, had been been busier than they'd initially forecasted, but that they were hopeful this means that some of the barriers to coming forward after sexual violence in Shetland have been lowered, in part, thanks to it's existence.

She said "We were initially forecasting for three referrals in the first year, but we've actually had eight in total since opening in April 2022. Obviously, these are still small numbers in the grand scheme of things, but it's encouraging that folk have felt able to come forward and use the service after an experience of sexual assault and/or rape, and you can't underestimate the difference that a service like this being available locally can make to an individual after such a traumatic experience."

The Forensic Medical Services (Victims of Sexual Offences)(Scotland) Act 2021 was a change in the law which came into effect on 1st April 2022. The Act changes the way that survivors can access Forensic Medical Exams (FMEs) after rape or sexual assault.

As of 1st April 2022, anyone, of any gender, aged 16 or over who has been raped or sexually assaulted can self-refer for FMEs, meaning that you don't need to make any immediate decisions about whether to report to the police. If you do choose to report to police, evidence can now be collected on Isle via the SARC.

You can refer yourself to SARCS by calling their dedicated number, which is available 24/7 and free from landlines and mobiles: 0800 148 88 88 (available 24/7).

An FME is an examination performed by a specially trained healthcare professional, to collect forensic evidence after a rape or sexual assault. You can usually access an FME for up to 7 days after the assault(s). After this window, it is unlikely (but not impossible) that evidence could be gathered.

Lisa Ward, Service Manager at The Compass Centre, said "The window for collecting forensic evidence is short, but we know that making the decision about whether or not to report rape and/or sexual assault can be really difficult.

Self-referral means that you can make a decision about reporting when you feel ready, whilst also capturing any potential evidence at the time of the incident. For both self-referrals and referrals that come via police to the SARC, this means that survivors in Shetland no longer have to travel off Isle for evidence collection, which we know was a major barrier to reporting in the past."

Any forensic evidence collected will be stored securely by the SARC for 26 months from the day of your FME. This evidence will not be reviewed or analysed unless you decide to report to the police. SARCS is a confidential NHS service, meaning that the police and other agencies will not know unless you decide to tell them. In certain circumstances, a healthcare professional might have to tell them if you or others are at risk of further harm, but they should speak with you about this and keep you informed.

If you decide not to report before the end of the 26 months, you can choose to have your evidence destroyed or for certain evidence (such as personal items or clothing) to be returned to you. After the 26 months, your evidence will have been safely destroyed, but you will still have the option of reporting to the police.

Ward added "This introduction of SARCS in April 2022 was a massive step forward for survivors of sexual violence all over the country, but an especially huge leap forward for survivors in Shetland, for whom access to forensic services on Isle has gone from non-existent to what we see today, in the course of just 6 short years, 2 of which were during lock-downs.

We are grateful to the staff at NHS Shetland who have made this happen and, after a successful first year of the service, we hope that, in raising awareness of the service, it will continue making the choice to access justice after sexual crime, feel more accessible to survivors in Shetland."

About the NHS Shetland Sexual Health Clinic

The Sexual health Clinic runs in Outpatients at the Gilbert Bain Hospital on Monday evenings from 5.45pm - 7.45pm with a young person clinic from 4.00pm - 5.30pm on Mondays in Outpatients. We also offer occasional Friday afternoons at the Brae Health Centre, by appointment only. The Sexual Health Clinic is a confidential, non-judgemental service for people of all genders, orientations, and ages. The clinic offers STI testing, sexual health advice, contraception (including emergency contraception), immunisations for at-risk groups, pre-conception advice, termination referrals, family planning, pregnancy testing, and HIV prevention medications. Emergency contraception is available from GP practices, pharmacies and out of hours from A&E. For post exposure HIV prophylaxis (PEP), please contact NHS 24.

About The Compass Centre

Shetland Rape Crisis, based in The Compass Centre in Lerwick, Shetland, provides free and confidential information, support, and advocacy to any non-abusive person in Shetland of any gender (age 13+) who has been affected by sexual violence at any time in their life. The Centre also delivers free sexual violence prevention education in all secondary schools in Shetland, plus some youth and college settings, undertakes campaigns and community events to educate on the prevalence of sexual violence and highlight ways to prevent it, and takes part in partnership work with strategic partnerships, the local authority, health, and third sectors advocating for the inclusion of concerns relating to sexual and gender-based violence in Shetland. If you have been affected by sexual harm, you can refer to The Centre by emailing any time, or calling 01595 747174 Monday-Thursday 9am - 1.30pm.

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