THE NHS has pledged more support for victims of assault and abuse alongside the launch of a powerful new awareness campaign.

Victims and survivors of sexual and domestic abuse in the South West are set to be given support to come forward for NHS help and care, as part of a major campaign backed by a £20m boost to specialist services.

The new campaign – which has backing of Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, and former Prime Minister Theresa May – is launching on the first day of Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence Awareness Week, and will highlight the specialist support offered at dozens of sexual assault referral centres (SARCs) in England.

The move comes as NHS England announces a £20 million funding boost for sexual assault and domestic violence services over the next three years, including enhanced support services for victims and survivors of sexual assault and abuse who have complex, trauma-related mental health needs.

While the majority of victims of sexual assault and domestic abuse are women and girls, health service leaders are encouraging anyone who needs support to turn to the NHS at one of the country’s 24-hour centres. SARCs offer confidential specialist, practical, medical and emotional support to anyone who has been raped, sexually assaulted, or abused - regardless of when the incident happened.

A new survey found two in five people aren’t sure or do not know where to get help after being sexually assaulted, with 72% being unaware that there are NHS specialist sexual assault services which can offer confidential support. More than half of people who have experienced sexual assault also say they did not seek help afterwards.

The campaign, which will raise awareness of the centres and the support available, will also release a powerful short film that addresses common questions and concerns that many people face after experiencing sexual assault, abuse or rape, including not knowing who or where to turn to.

Kate Davies, CBE, the NHS director of sexual assault services commissioning, said: “Sexual assault or domestic abuse can happen to anyone – any age, ethnicity, gender or social circumstance – and it may be a one-off event or happen repeatedly.

“But sadly, thousands of people aren’t sure where to turn to get the help they need, and today the NHS is making it clear that you can turn to us.

“We provide confidential emotional, medical or practical support at our sexual assault referral centres, a dedicated safe space for anyone who needs it, regardless of when the incident happened.”

Nikki, who visited the Swindon and Wiltshire SARC following a sexual assault, said: “While the experience of going to a SARC was daunting as I didn’t know what to expect, I felt really supported by the staff there in the aftermath of my assault. While they did all the necessary testing and physical health checks, I felt they also ensured my mental health was being looked after.

“I wasn’t aware you could access a SARC without having to go through the police or another service first. I want people to know that SARCs are there for you in the aftermath of assault when you don’t know where else to go- they can help you”.

Rebecca Marsh, Sexual Assault and Abuse Strategy Commissioner, NHS England and NHS Improvement South West, said: “We know it can take a lot to pick up the phone and take that first step – SARCs are here at any time of day or night. We will support you through the whole process, whatever you decide to do.”

The new campaign comes as a survey of more than 4,000 people across the country, conducted by Censuswide, found over half (56%) did not seek help from any organisation or service after the incident, while almost half of respondents (46%) cite fear of being believed as the biggest barrier to accessing services.

Former Prime Minister Theresa May said of the new NHS initiative: “I welcome this NHS campaign. It is important for victims of sexual assault and abuse to know that the NHS is there for them. Sadly, incidents of domestic abuse and sexual assault increased during lockdown and the extra funding for services for victims of abuse and sexual violence is much needed.

“Dedicated domestic violence support for the NHS and integrated care systems is particularly welcome as local medical care plays an important role in identifying abuse and supporting victims.”

The Duchess of Cornwall, who has long championed the work of organisations which support survivors of rape and domestic abuse, is due to visit a centre this week in support of the campaign and will meet with survivors of sexual assault to hear more about their experiences and the vital support and care they receive via SARCs.

The number of people receiving help from NHS SARCs halved after the first lockdown compared to 2019, despite official figures showing that domestic abuse and sexual assault had increased.

Sexual assault referral centres provide a safe space and dedicated care for people who have been raped, sexually assaulted, or abused. If you have suffered such an attack and don’t know where to turn, search “sexual assault referral centres” to find out more or visit to find your nearest service.