When I called the police last year following an incident in my local park, a squad car came to interview me, but not before they arrested the man who they followed on CCTV after he attacked me. For a long time, I felt uncomfortable being touched, even squirmed at the thought of being hugged by my boyfriend, and on off days, I still do. My anxiety worsened and I stopped walking my dog, or going out at all, for that matter. I couldn't concentrate, even pushing back the launch of The Unedit until I felt somewhat human again. Eventually, when I realised I had to leave the house at some point, I had to be on the phone to someone (generally my mum) every step of the way. Victim Support would help me, they said. I had a two minute phone call, where they vowed to send me a rape alarm (which subsequently arrived nearly six months later — and didn't even work), and never heard from them again.
I realise that my experience was a lucky one in comparison to the horrific things that many, many others have to go through when sexually assaulted, and how it affected me mentally, and how I could've probably done with more support than a two minute phone call. Which is why I was so happy to hear about the latest NHS pledge in aid of sexual assault victims: lifetime mental health care.
Looking back now, over a year on, and recognising how the attack impacted me — how I won't sit out in the park in the sunshine anymore, how I look at men, especially those of a certain age, and struggle to not see them as a danger, how I still have flashbacks and dreams about it — is a clear indication that victims, even more so those who experience something even more traumatic, deserve more than justice, or at least the closest that the system can get to it. Under these new pledges, all survivors will be guaranteed access to counselling amongst other forms of trauma care, something that they can access throughout their lifetime. The plans for the new pledge are an aim to lend a helping hand to victims suffering what ministers described as the 'profound and long-lasting' trauma.
Minister for mental health and inequalities, Jackie Doyle-Price, said: “The scars left by sexual violence may not always be visible, but they can be profound and long lasting – it is my priority that we have the best possible support available for survivors.”
“NHS England’s new sexual assault strategy and the commitment within it to provide care that is better signposted, more joined up and long lasting is essential so that all survivors can access the support they need for as long as they need it,” she said. “The more confident survivors are that they will get the right care and treatment, the better.”
The reason behind the latest pledge comes down to statistics: the number of reported rapes in the last three years have doubled, with recorded sexual offences in England increasing by 89%. The NHS's sexual assault strategy, which will span over five years, is being backed by £4million funding a year. Its aim is to improve the access that victims of sexual crimes have to future support and mental health care.
“The physical and emotional impact of sexual crimes lasts a lifetime, so it’s important that survivors can get the help they need, whenever they need it,” NHS England Director of Sexual Assault Services, Kate Davies said. “The physical effect of these crimes is so shocking that it can be easy to overlook the long-term mental health needs, which may be less visible but not less harmful.”
The aim is to address a part of healthcare that is often overlooked, especially with the lacking resources already made available for mental health, without considering the trauma that comes from crimes involving sexual assault or abuse.
If this fully comes to fruition, it will be a massive step in the right direction to helping victims feel less alone whilst they come to terms with, and continue to suffer from, the consequences of someone else's actions towards them and their body. Victim support should not be a short-term, or even mid-term option, and the offer of lifetime support — if done properly — will help endless numbers of people.