New £75,000 rape victim unit opens

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A ONE-stop centre for victims of sexual abuse was opened in Suffolk this week.

Opened by Baroness Vivien Stern, the author of the Stern Review which examined how rape complaints are handled in England and Wales, the facility in Ipswich gives 24-hour support for all victims of rape and sexual assault including children.

The centre, named The Ferns, is also home to the new Suffolk Rape Crisis Service which was also opened by Baroness Stern.

This is the county’s first sexual assault referral unit and offers multi-agency support to victims who can refer themselves by dialling a helpline or who can be referred by support or health agencies.

This year, Suffolk Police has had 267 reports of rape and 349 of sexual assault while in 2009 there were 288 reports of rape and 353 reports of sexual assault.

The Ferns was set up through a £75,000 Home Office grant provided in 2009 and running costs will be met through the Suffolk Police Authority, NHS Suffolk and NHS Great Yarmouth and Waveney.

Marianne Fellowes, domestic abuse and sexual violence projects team manager for Suffolk Police, said: “The priority for police, health services and support agencies is the welfare of victims and we are acutely aware that a large number of victims of this type of offence do not seek the help they need for a variety of reasons.

“Opening a facility such as The Ferns presents new options to all victims and welcomes them into a supportive environment that is not police-led but offers police assistance and investigation should they desire this.”

It is hoped that this expertise and multi-agency support coupled with the opportunity for forensic examination will enable women to come forward and, if they wish, pursue police investigations.

The helpline will be available from the beginnning of next year.