Theresa May and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall are among figures backing a campaign to encourage survivors of sexual and domestic abuse to come forward for help through the NHS.
The campaign, backed by a £20m boost to specialist services, comes on the first day of Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence Awareness Week.
NHS England (NHSE) said the campaign was intended to highlight the support offered at dozens of sexual assault referral centres (SARCs) in England. The service is also creating two new clinical lead roles for domestic violence and sexual assault.
NHSE said the 24-hour centres offered confidential specialist, practical, medical and emotional support to anyone who has been raped, sexually assaulted or abused, no matter when it happened.
May, whose government introduced the domestic abuse bill that finally passed into legislation last year, said survivors needed to know “the NHS is there for them”.
“Sadly incidents of domestic abuse and sexual assault increased during lockdown and the extra funding for services for victims of abuse and sexual violence is much needed,” the former prime minister said.
“Dedicated domestic violence support for the NHS and integrated care systems is particularly welcome as local medical care plays an important role in identifying abuse and supporting victims.”
Camilla has highlighted the issue of domestic abuse for a number of years and NHSE said she would visit a centre this week to meet survivors of sexual assault to hear more about their experiences and the care they receive through SARCs.
A short video raising awareness of the help offered by specialist centres has been released as part of the campaign, which is supported by organisations and charities including the Survivors Trust, SafeLives and the Male Survivors Partnership, a
NHSE said that despite official figures showing that domestic abuse and sexual assault had increased in the pandemic, the number of people receiving help from SARCs halved after the first lockdown compared with 2019.
Laura Currer, the chair of the national NHS England sexual abuse and assault services lived experience group, said: “I know from experience how hard it can be to seek help in these situations, but after I was assaulted I will never forget the kind, caring and compassionate staff at SARCs who were there to hold my hand during one of the worst moments of my life.
“They explained the whole process to me, and gave me the space and autonomy over my body that my attackers had taken away, and I will be forever grateful.
“I urge anyone who needs support, no matter when it took place, to come forward – you are not alone, and the wonderful teams at SARCs are there to help 24/7.”