A CENTRE set up to provide support to victims of sexual crime has been used by more than 180 people since it opened a year ago.

North Yorkshire Police’s Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) is marking its first anniversary today, with staff hailing it a positive success story for victims.

The £250,000 facility, known as Bridge House, was the first such facility to be launched in North Yorkshire last May and provides people with help, support and options rather than having to report directly to police, with specially-trained staff on hand to talk to victims.

In its first year, 186 people have used the service, 131 of whom were referred by North Yorkshire Police while 55 accessed the service using the new process of self-referrals.

Sarah Murphy, SARC manager, said: “It’s certainly been a positive step forward for North Yorkshire that we have got a SARC. It does give the victims an informed choice of being able to self-refer. For 55 victims to contact the centre, that’s been a really positive step forward. At SARC we’re about empowering those who have been abused.”

She said the centre helped put people in contact with services that could support them both emotionally and practically.

“Once an individual contacts the centre through our helpline or by email, they will have the option of choosing to have a self-referral, face to face appointment with myself to give them the informed choice about what they want to do, and discuss the police process if they so choose to take the complaint forward."

Services include referrals to sexual health clinics, counselling, and access to the Independent Sexual Violence Advisors (ISVAs) that work with SARC by offering support to self-referral victims and assisting police-referred victims through the court process.

Of the 55 self-referrals, 35 opted for an individual appointment with Sarah, and six of those chose to forward their complaint to the police.

Detective Inspector Karen Warner, who works closely with SARC staff , said she was not surprised at the low figure.

She said: “With the sheer nature of a service like this, we would expect to see the number of reported crimes to go up, but actually this service is about helping the victims to get the support they need, and that’s the main priority.

“Prior to January 2013, the option of self-referral through a SARC centre just wasn’t available. The only option victims had was to speak directly to police. This service offers them the choice to be able to report rape and serious sexual assaults, in a safe and supportive environment. It is only with their explicit consent that they can forward their complaint to the police."

For people who want to contact the police, the centre has a dedicated suite for police officers to handle any reports given to them, in addition to an interviewing room where accounts can be filmed for evidence purposes.

Medical facilities are also available on site so early forensic evidence can be collected for potential criminal cases.

Samples are then stored independently and confidentially for a considerable period of time, so if someone did wish to report their incident to the police, medical evidence would be available.

There is also the option for individuals to give first-account interviews with Sarah. In the event that a victim does want to report to the police, all notes and reports from the interview are passed to the police, and a liaison process can take place.

"This is so the individual doesn’t have to go through it all again,” said Sarah.

SARC is available to anyone who needs it in North Yorkshire, regardless of gender, race, religion or geographic location. If someone is unable to travel to York, arrangements can be made for Sarah to travel to the victim.

To contact Bridge House call 01904 669339 or go to turntobridgehouse.org