Staff from Women’s Aid Federation and our local groups paid a visit to Northern Ireland’s new Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC), to tour the facilities and find out how victims of sexual violence will benefit from this vital new resource. We met with SARC Manager Karen Douglas and Forensic Medical Officer Dr Olive Buckley to hear about how this new facility will operate and shared our experience of supporting victims of domestic and sexual violence. All Women’s Aid groups and the 24 Hour Domestic & Sexual Violence Helpline will be working closely with the SARC as it opens its doors to support victims of sexual violence in Northern Ireland.

We also had the opportunity to meet with Chief Constable Matt Baggott, Inspector Anne Marks and Stephen Wilson of the PSNI to discuss how the police service will engage with the SARC and with support services like Women’s Aid to help victims of sexual assault and rape.

The new SARC facility, which has been named The Rowan, will provide a one-stop location for all victims, regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, ability, sexual orientation, who have experienced sexual assault, whether recently or in the past. The centre will also provide a comprehensive and co-ordinated package of care to promote recovery and wellbeing. Victims will be able to access the service through self-referral, third party referral or through the Police Service. The core opening hours will be between 9am and 5pm. Outside of these hours, and at weekends, victims will have telephone access to a trained Rowan Nurse who will arrange an appointment to attend the centre. The SARC will be fully operational as of September 2013.

The project is a joint initiative between the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety.

If you have been affected by domestic or sexual violence, the 24 Hour Domestic & Sexual Violence Helpline can offer help, support and signposting to any services you need. Call on 0808 802 1414, text support to 07797 805839, or email 24hrsupport@dvhelpline.org