A pioneering sexual violence needs assessment for Avon and Somerset has brought to light the experiences of a range of survivors in the area, many of whom did not receive appropriate therapeutic support to address the trauma they experienced.


Nationally, 3.1% of women and 0.8% of men are estimated to have experienced sexual violence in the past 12 months (Crime Survey for England and Wales, 2017). Despite this high figure, the national disclosure rate of sexual violence however is extremely low, around 15% (Rape Crisis England and Wales, 2017).


Exploring this disparity, the needs assessment for this region found that accessing services was often a negative experience and survivors can face a range of barriers (psychological, societal, resource) which can delay or even halt the process before it has begun. Survivors with additional vulnerabilities or those from minority groups can face even greater difficulty getting appropriate support. One survivor commented: “I have felt left behind by the system, and I’m frightened for women in less privileged positions than my own.”


Blame or the question of whether they would be believed were also big causes of concern. “It took me 11 years to tell anyone,” one survivor said, “I was afraid what people would think of me. “She was wearing a short skirt and drunk”, for example.”


As if these barriers were not troubling enough, the research found that they are further compounded by realities such as long waiting lists and a lack of awareness of available services. “Trouble is, when you find the courage to speak to someone, you want to do it there and then, not in 6 weeks’ time,” one survivor commented.


This is the first needs assessment of its kind in Avon and Somerset and was carried out by Voscur as part of the Innovations Project with the Bristol Sexual Violence Support Consortium. The research aims to address the lack of evidence around the specific and varying needs of adult survivors of sexual violence in the region.


The Consortium was established in 2015 and includes: SARSAS (Somerset and Avon Rape and Sexual Abuse Support), Womankind Therapy Centre, Barnardo’s BASE, The Green House and the Southmead Project.


Jennifer McMahon, Consortium Innovations Manager for the Bristol Sexual Violence Support Consortium, said: “The aim of the Innovations project is to develop collaborative working and efficiency in sexual violence services. This work could not take place without a firm understanding of the realities of local survivors’ experiences and we will take this learning forward to inform future service design and provision”.


The research was well received by those survivors who provided feedback, saying they felt their views were reflected: “I think the research you’ve done is amazing” one survivor commented, “it highlights the main issues us survivors have in accessing help.”


The full needs assessment and a summary briefing of the findings from the research, together with recommendations can be found at: https://www.voscur.org/services/innovation-project-bristol-sexual-violence-services-consortium/sexual-violence-needs-assessment-avon-and-somerset