A PIONEERING study of more than 1,000 sexual assault victims and the support they received is being led by Coventry University.
The four-year project will see victims interviewed to understand how the help provided to them affects their long-term health and wellbeing.
The information will be collected to evaluate the work of sexual assault referral centres (SARCs) in England.
Researchers say the centres offer a first point of call for victims of rape or sexual assault, and do not require a person to report abuse to the police.
They aim to provide an immediate, supportive response, as well as the option of forensic medical examination, assessment of sexual health needs and spaces for interviews, if necessary.
The £1.3million National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) funded project will be the largest UK study to explore the centres.
It will investigate how they work, the support they offer, their workforce and the technologies they use.
Principal investigator Dr Lorna O’Doherty, from the university’s Centre for Advances in Behavioural Science (CABS), said: “We need more evidence to show the impacts that exposure to sexual violence has on people’s physical, sexual and mental health over time, including how people respond to different support and interventions.
“SARCs have potential to bring wider benefits to the community by raising awareness of sexual violence and increasing visibility of sexual assault support services, reducing stigma, and giving a voice to survivors.
“Our research will thoroughly explore how these centres work and their impact on victims so we can make recommendations about what they should do in the future to help people even more.”
The project will include interviewing around 30 children aged 13 to 15 years old who have been victims of sexual violence.
It will also look into the issue of what can be done to encourage hard-to-reach groups to access support.
This category includes men, those from lesbian gay bisexual trans-sexual (LGBT) and black and minority ethnic (BAME) communities, people with mental health conditions or disability, and those in long-term abusive relationships.
The ultimate purpose of the study is to see whether interventions and services offered by centres help reduce the risk of post-traumatic stress disorder and other health problems during recovery.
The universities involved will make recommendations based on their findings.
One in five women and one in 25 men have experienced some type of sexual assault since the age of 16.
This is equivalent to an estimated 3.4million female victims and 631,000 male victims, according to latest figures from the Crime Survey for England and Wales.