The Oak Centre

The Oak Centre is a Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC), based at a safe, secure and discreet location in Exeter. All our staff are specially trained to support those who have experienced rape and/or sexual assault, recently or in the past, in a non-judgmental manner. You will always be believed and treated with the utmost dignity and respect.

The Oak Centre can provide support and services to males and females of any age.

The services we offer here at The Oak Centre include:

  • Crisis Worker support for victims who come to the Oak Centre with the police
  • Forensic medical facilities and examination
  • Sexual health and contraception information and referral services
  • Follow-up emotional and practical support from an independent advisor (ISVA)
  • Information about reporting to the police or sharing information anonymously with the police
  • Support to help people through the criminal justice system
  • Information on, and referral, to other support services in the area
  • Advice about personal safety
  • Referral to our counsellor

SARC-flowchart1

Crisis Workers and Medical Examination

Crisis Workers are completely independent from the police. They are non-judgmental and will always respect what you say. Our Crisis Workers aim to be on call 24/7 to meet you at the Oak Centre and provide support.

You do not have to tell your Crisis Worker what happened to you, but they are trained to listen.

Our Crisis Workers can:

  • Ensure you are treated with dignity and respect at all times
  • Make sure you give your consent to all that happens at the Oak Centre
  • Act as your advocate and represent your best interests
  • Answer any questions you have about what happens now and next
  • Help you to feel comfortable by providing you with refreshments
  • Support you through the medical examination process
  • Offer you a shower and provide you with clean clothing after the examination
  • Refer you to an ISVA
  • Refer you to a sexual health clinic of your choice
  • Provide you with information about other useful services in the area
  • Above all, listen

All of our Crisis Workers are female and are highly skilled at supporting people who have experienced sexual assault and/or rape. They understand how important it is for your voice to be heard. It is their main responsibility to ensure you have all the information, time and space you need to make any decisions about your immediate care. You can always speak to them if you want to stop the process at any time.

What happens if you decide to report the crime?

If you decide you want to report the crime, notify the police immediately. Reporting the crime can help to ensure your safety and the safety of other potential victims. If you would like more details about what is sexual assault/rape and how to involve the police, please click here.

Once you have reported, you will be offered a forensic medical examination if you have been assaulted within 7-10 days. Sometimes it may also be helpful to have one if the assault happened longer than 10 days ago. The examination is to look after your medical needs as well as collecting forensic evidence that can be used in an investigation of your assault.

It is important that the examination is carried out as soon as possible after the assault in order to capture as much forensic evidence as possible, so it is likely that you will be asked to attend the Oak Centre that day. If samples are taken, they are carefully collected, labelled and stored so they can be used as evidence. If you think that you might wish to go through with the examination, to preserve as much evidence as possible we advise the following:

  • Try not to wash, take a bath or shower
  • Try not to brush your teeth or use mouth wash
  • Try not to go to the toilet
  • Keep and do not wash any clothing and underwear work at the time of the assault or shortly afterwards. Put them in separate bags if possible
  • Keep any sanitary protection worn at the time or after the assault
  • Keep any discarded condoms used during the assault
  • Keep and do not wash any bedding used during the assault
  • If the attacker drank anything, keep the unwashed glass or mug
  • If the attacker smoked cigarettes, keep any cigarette ends in a bag
  • If the attacker chewed gum, keep the gum in a bag in the fridge.

These may be difficult, but if you can do any of them, the evidence you preserve is likely to be very helpful if you decide to continue with your report to the police.

When you arrive

A police officer will bring you to the Oak Centre where you will be met by one of our Crisis Workers (CWs), who will welcome you into the waiting room and organise some refreshments. You can discuss any immediate worries or concerns with your Crisis Worker, and any urgent issues that arise will be dealt with immediately.

Then your Crisis Worker will explain what will happen when the doctor (Forensic Practitioner) joins you and what is involved in the examination. The examination will only take place with your signed consent and will be carried out in a sensitive and respectful way. Also, you can stop the process at any time or change your mind about an examination.

A specially trained police officer (Sexual Offence Liaison Officer, or Solo) will also be at the Oak Centre to meet with the doctor while you are with the Crisis Worker. The Solo will give some details of the assault to help the doctor consider what medical needs you may have and what samples to take during the examination. However, you may be asked about the assault further by the doctor so they can get all the necessary information. At this point the doctor will usually take your past medical history. You can do this alone with the doctor if you wish. The doctor and Solo will then leave the waiting room to prepare the medical room.

If you have any worries now, your Crisis Worker can discuss these with you so you feel comfortable about the examination. The role of an Independent Sexual Violence Advisor (ISVA) is also explained to you and you will be offered a referral to an ISVA. For this, your Crisis Worker will need to take a few details, including your name, date of birth and a safe telephone number and address, so that an ISVA can make contact with you in the next few days. You will have any necessary consent forms explained to you before you sign them. Your Crisis Worker will then ask you if you would like her or a friend or member of your family to be with you during the examination.

The examination

When you are ready the doctor will invite you into the examination room. The examination is carried out by a fully-trained and experienced, qualified forensic doctor. We understand – and it is completely normal – that you might feel uncomfortable about the examination, but every effort is made to ensure you are as comfortable as possible and understand what is happening and why. Remember, you can stop the examination at any time and your Crisis Worker or friend/family member will be with you throughout it, if you wish. The examination may include the following:

  • A head-to-toe check for injury
  • Measuring your height and weight
  • Taking a urine sample and/or blood sample
  • Carrying out a pregnancy test
  • Deciding with you if emergency contraception (morning-after pill) is needed
  • Deciding with you if any treatment is needed to help reduce the chances of your developing sexually-transmitted infections (STIs), HIV or hepatitis B infection from the assault
  • Deciding with you what forensic samples should be taken

All samples are passed to the Solo, labelled and bagged in accordance with very strict forensic procedures. Any clothes that might be needed as evidence are also put into police evidence bags and labelled along with what you wear for the examination.

The doctor will also write a brief report that will help in any investigation. If the investigation goes to court then the doctor may be requested to provide a statement, which is likely to include medical details.

The examination can seem frightening – many people worry a lot about it. Please remember that you are in control of everything that happens at the Oak Centre and we will take it at your own pace. You can stop the examination at any time, but you can also re-start it if you wish to. It may take a while, but we will discuss everything with you before we start and during the examination. You and your wellbeing is what is important to us, and we will ensure you are treated with dignity and respect throughout.

After the examination

Following the examination, your Crisis Worker will offer you a shower and provide you with toiletries and towels. Clothing can also be provided if yours are taken for evidence and you have not brought any of your own.

You can return to the waiting room and join any friends or family that you brought with you. Further refreshments will also be provided if you wish.

The doctor will then provide you with the medications discussed with you during the examination, if you choose to have them, and advise you on any medical treatment or sexual health screening required.

If you consent to a referral to a sexual health clinic of your choice, the doctor, together with your Crisis Worker, will fill out the referral form, detailing what has been done during the examination. This means that when you attend the sexual health clinic you do not need to answer too many questions about the assault or your treatment. Your Crisis Worker will ensure this referral is faxed to the sexual health clinic safely on the next working day, and then a nurse will contact you.

You can decide not to accept a referral to the sexual health clinic or you can allow the examination details to be sent, just with your name and date of birth, but without your contact details, and then you can arrange an appointment yourself, when you feel ready. We will always support you in whatever choice you make.

Your Crisis Worker will also provide you with a leaflet pack, which has some useful details about services in the area, including sexual health and counselling services as well as the Oak Centre leaflet should you need to contact us. When you are ready, either the Solo or another police officer will take you home.

You will usually spend a few hours in total at the Oak Centre, as we go at your pace and believe it is important that you don’t feel rushed.

Independent Sexual Violence Advisers (ISVAs)

ISVAs are here to represent your best interests and ensure that you have all the information you need to make informed decisions and to get the appropriate support. An ISVA can support you whether the sexual assault occurred recently or in the past.

Our ISVAs can:

  • Discuss your options around reporting to the police, so you feel able to make an informed decision
  • Discuss your needs and make referrals to appropriate services
  • Discuss safety concerns
  • Support you by telephone and/or one to one
  • Attend appointments and meetings with you
  • Help you arrange medical appointments
  • Be your advocate
  • Support you through the Criminal Justice System and attend court with you.

We can offer appointments in the following areas:

Barnstaple

Exeter

Exmouth

Honiton

Newton Abbot

Tiverton

Torquay

Criminal Justice System

After you have reported to the police, they will carry out an investigation and gather evidence. Police investigations can take a long time and it may be several months before you hear anything about the case. However, one of our ISVAs can support you throughout this process.

Once the police have completed their investigation, the case is passed to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), which will then decide whether to charge the suspect. The Crown Prosecution Service is responsible for charging and prosecuting; they decide if there is sufficient evidence to present the case in court.

For more information about the process of reporting an incident of sexual assault/rape and about the Criminal Justice System, please click here.

Do you have to go to court?

If you have given a statement you may be required to attend court as a witness.

The courts have introduced ‘special measures’ to make it easier for you to give evidence, which can be explained to you by your Sexual Offences Liaison Officer (Solo) or an ISVA. We can also arrange a visit to the courtroom with the Court Witness Service before the trial, to help address any concerns you may have.

For further information about the Criminal Justice System and the Court Process please visit this website.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I get help from the Oak Centre?

As a victim of sexual assault/rape, you can be referred to us by a professional or you can self refer by calling the office on01392 436967.

Professionals – please see Professionals section of our website.

Do I need to report the crime to the police to access the services at the Oak Centre?

No, you do not need to report to the police to access all the services at the Oak Centre. You only need to report to the police if you would like a Forensic Medical Examination.

Our ISVAs can help you with planning your safety, be your advocate and arrange medical appointments/meetings on your behalf. However, if you are unsure about reporting, they can also provide you with your options to help you reach a decision.

I haven’t reported the crime to the police yet, can you help me to do this?

An ISVA can discuss the process and your options for reporting to the police, they can answer any questions and help you to reach an informed decision. If you decide to report to the police, your ISVA will contact a specially-trained officer and arrange a meeting at a date and time convenient to you. An ISVA can accompany you to any appointments as necessary. If you decide not to report an ISVA will look at your support needs and signpost to support services.

How long is each ISVA appointment?

An hour is set aside for each appointment, although on some occasions we recognise that you may require shorter/longer appointments.

How long will it be before the case goes to court?

Once you have reported a crime, the police will carry out an investigation where they will gather evidence. Police investigations can take a long time and it may be several months before you hear anything about the case. However, one of our ISVAs can support you through this process.

Once the police have completed their investigation, the case is passed to the Crown Prosecution Service, who will then decide whether or not to charge the suspect. In order to read more about the process of reporting an incident of sexual assault/rape and the Criminal Justice System, please click here.

Will I have to go to court?

You will only have to go to court if the CPS decide to charge and if the defendant pleads ‘not guilty’, or pleads guilty but denies an important part of the offence which might affect the type of sentence they receive.

If you are asked to go to court, you can access the Witness Care Service prior to the trial, which is run by Victim Support. We can arrange a visit to the courtroom with the Court Witness Service before the trial to help address any concerns you may have.

If required, the courts are able to provide extra help to witnesses giving evidence at court by way of ‘special measures.’ This might mean screens around the witness box to ensure that you cannot see the defendant and ‘live’ TV links allowing you to give evidence from outside the courtroom. Video-recorded evidence can also be shown as your main evidence, so that you do not have to repeat what was said in the interview.

If you wish to use ‘special measures’ in court, you will need permission from the magistrates or judge. An ISVA can help you with an application for ‘special measures’. In order to read more about the process of reporting an incident of sexual assault/rape and the Criminal Justice System, please click here.

Can I have counselling?

We offerindividual counselling. If your case is in the Criminal Justice System, you can have counselling as long as your counsellor follows the pre-trial therapy guidelines.

For guidelines for vulnerable adult witnesses, please click here.

For guidelines for vulnerable child witnesses, please click here.

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