Young LGBT+ people who have experienced sexual assault have reported being afraid to seek help because of prejudice.
A survey released Monday (7 February) by the NHS asked 4,000 people in England about their experiences of sexual assault.
Two in five people said they did not know where to get help after being sexually assaulted, while 56 per cent of sexual assault survivors sought no help from support services following the attack.
The NHS offers support for people who have experienced sexual assault including through specialised sexual assault referral centres, or SARCs. However, 72 per cent were unaware the NHS even offered such help.
Of the 150 LGBT+ people aged 18-33 surveyed, the trend remained the same. Two-fifths sought no support at all, and three out of five were not aware that the NHS provides various support services for sexual assault survivors.
Among LGBT+ people who had been sexually assaulted who did not report the attack, many cited a fear of not being believed or of being judged.
The poll was conducted as part of the NHS’ £20 million bid to boost awareness of SARCs and other support services for sexual assault survivors.
Across the next three years, millions will be injected into both sexual assaultand domestic violence services.
Such funding comes in response the troubling decline in the number of people receiving help from SARCs. Statistics from the NHS show SARC service-use halved after the first lockdown compared with the previous year, despite figures from the Office for National Statistics showing that domestic abuse and sexual assault sharply increased across 2020 in has been called a “shadow pandemic“.
Almost half of gay and bisexual men in Britain having been sexually assaulted, according to SurvivorsUK, a charity supporting male and non-binary survivors of sexual violence.
Again, only 14 per cent of the 505 queer men surveyed by SurvivorsUK reported the incident to the police. Almost a third of LGBT+ people who told the police said the cops “disbelieved” them or refused to take their claims seriously.
Those whose reports reach trial are often met with disappointment, given that the number of rape convictions in England and Wales has halved to the lowest rate on record last year.
In England, those who have been sexually assaulted can seek free medical, practical and emotional support from SARCs.
The 24-hour centres are staffed by healthcare workers and advisors, according to the NHS. Survivors can be connected to police officers and forensic examiners who support them as they report the assault to law enforcement.
Other options include people’s general practitioners (GP), sexual health clinics and hospital emergency departments as well as voluntary organisations such as Rape Crisis and Male Survivors Partnership, many of which operate freephone helplines.
“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,” said Katie Davies, NHS director of sexual assault services commissioning.
“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.”