Rape crisis centre needed says police chief

Essex needs its own specific centre to look after rape and sexual assault victims, the county’s police chief constable has said.

While Essex currently has its own Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) – located in Brentwood – there are options being discussed for a regional centre that may be more financially sustainable in the longer term.

But distances that victims may have to travel to access this centre has been flagged as a major concern by the Chief Constable of Essex BJ Harrington.

Currently the SARC, based at Brentwood Community Hospital, offers a comprehensive service for adults and children who have experienced sexual violence or sexual abuse. Individuals are offered support and guidance, medical assessment and treatment, aftercare and forensic examination when required.

Previously, SARC practices have not been regulated, however this is set to change and by October 2025 all facilities conducting evidence recovery (including SARC) will need to comply with the Forensic Science Regulator (FSR) to become accredited to the international standard (ISO).

Several options are now being discussed to allow this – including a creation of a public sector entity made of the NHS and police to provide a SARC provision.

This may mean maintaining the existing SARC at Oakwood Place, Brentwood under an Essex only arrangement, or the relocation of SARC in Essex under an Essex only arrangements to make use of new building projects such Harlow Hospital.

A regional centre for a group of neighbouring police forces – that will be more sustainable financially – is also being discussed but this has been warned against if it is not accompanied by a Essex hub.

Chief Constable Harrington said in Essex 543 adults and 89 children have used the SARC in the past year.

He said: “We prefer something local. From those who deal with this and the professional investigator would say whatever the option we would definitely want a firm footprint at a place in Essex. We wouldn’t want to be taking a victim or a person who’s been affected routinely 120 or 130 miles.

“Equally the 24/7 provision might be something which is more sustainable because it’s used more infrequently to be located on a central vision.

“We could have a hub and spoke model – a central 24/7 point which is for the out of hours and then a very sustainable base in each or some of the of the county arrangements.

“I think we do need something which is centrally locally based in Essex but whether that’s 24/7 7 days a week might not be the case.”

Councillor John Spence added that even within Essex the hub had to be located in a place which is accessible for all and that Harlow may not be suitable.

He said: “If you’re sitting in Rochford that feels a very long way at least of all somebody who’s distraught.”

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter