30th Jun, 2022

Spike in sexual violence victims seeking help expected as lockdown eases, says researcher

Editorial Correspondent 13th Jun, 2020 Updated: 13th Jun, 2020

A SPIKE in victims of sexual violence seeking help once lockdown measures ease  is expected by a senior university researcher.

Lorna O’Doherty, Associate Professor in Mental Health and Violence Prevention at Coventry University, is the principal investigator on the MESARCH project.

The government-funded project focuses on sexual violence, evaluating Sexual Assault Referral Centres (SARCs) in England and studying the health and wellbeing of adult and child survivors of sexual assault, rape and abuse.

Dr O’Doherty has been leading the study since 2018 together with academic, NHS, SARC and third sector partners, the support of NHS England and £1.3million in funding from the National Institute for Health Research, at the University’s Centre for Intelligent Healthcare.

The team has continued the research during the COVID-19 global pandemic, which Dr O’Doherty has highlighted in her university blog.

She said: “Keeping our longitudinal study afloat was our priority when the crisis hit. And we continue to invite survivors of sexual assault, rape and abuse to share about the widespread impacts of sexual assault on their lives.

“However, we recognised there’s something else we need to do: capture the influence of the crisis on people’s capacities to stay safe and reach out for support in the context of sexual violence.”

Dr O’Doherty and the team will only be able to assess the impact of the pandemic on the needs of survivors fully once lockdown has ended, and people come forward and hopefully join the research.

She said: “We need to understand how the period of COVID-19 is influencing exposure to sexual violence and abuse, provision of support, and long-term health and wellbeing.

“Early findings point to the participants’ difficulties looking after their mental and physical health. One person, for example, told of the difficulties accessing contraceptive care through her GP due to the practice shutting.”

The ability for survivors to engage in activities that help them cope with difficulties following abuse and to seek help from neighbours and friends has been limited due to restrictions on leaving the home.

Dr O’Doherty added: “The frequent overlap of sexual and domestic abuse emphasises the reduced options facing many sexual violence victims.”

According to the Office for National Statistics, a woman’s partner or ex-partner is the perpetrator in 45 per cent of incidents of rape or sexual assault against women.

Dr O’Doherty stressed that sexual violence occurs outside domestic contexts too during lockdown.

“We need to bear in mind that incidents of sexual violence extend beyond the family home at this time, taking place in care settings, the workplaces of key workers, through digital technology, in modern day slavery contexts and in situations where social distancing rules have been broken.”

Despite the lack of normal avenues open to survivors, helplines and digital resources are aiding those in need and enabling people to find ‘quiet’ ways of reaching out using online resources, she adds.

If you have been affected by sexual or domestic violence the following organisations might be able to provide help and advice:

Rape Crisis England and Wales: https://rapecrisis.org.uk/get-help/want-to-talk/

24 hour National Domestic Abuse Helpline number: 0808 2000 247

INSPCC Helpline/Childline: https://www.nspcc.org.uk/what-you-can-do/get-advice-and-support/

Download the free Bright Sky mobile app to help those in abusive relationships or those supporting them: https://www.hestia.org/brightsky

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