The North East is now home to a first-class facility where all victims of sexual assault and abuse can access medical, practical and emotional support, officially opened today by Northumbria’s Police Commissioner, Kim McGuinness.

The new Sexual Assault Referral Centre, or ‘The Angel Centre’ as it has been more considerately named, is a place where victims will receive initial specialist support. It is a service for anyone who has experienced rape or sexual assault in the Northumbria Police force area.

Tucked away in an unidentified location, with its own peaceful garden and easily accessible facilities, it is set to become one of the leading sites in the country.

When someone arrives at the Angel Centre, they will be offered a forensic medical examination if there is evidence to be gathered, even if they don’t want to prosecute. Samples can be stored for up to two years should they change their mind.

The opening of the new centre is as more victims are choosing to come forward. There have been 570 SARC referrals in the last year in the Northumbria force area. Service use has increased by 27 per cent since April 2022.

The centre has been developed with input from survivors who have previously accessed SARCs as well as working closely with colleagues from across the health and emergency services.

The final result is a centre which fully considers the needs of the victim from arrival at the centre through handover, examination, and aftercare, with particular care taken to avoid retraumatising the victim.

Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner, Kim McGuinness, said: “If you’re attending a SARC, you’re likely to have just been through one of the worst experiences of your life – a truly abhorrent crime. And so, it’s imperative that for someone who has been brave enough to come through the doors of the centre, that we get everything right – the discreet comfortable environment, the specialist support and also the evidence gathering.

“There has been a great deal of thought and hard work that’s gone into ensuring the Angel Centre is somewhere survivors feel safe and comfortable as they embark on their journey to recovery. I want victims to know what to expect, what type of place and service awaits them, so they feel confident in coming forward. I want victims to know about it, know it’s one of the best of its kind and know they will be looked after here.

Kim continued: “As well as providing everything they need to cope and recover from their horrendous experience we must ensure we’re in the best position possible in terms of evidence too, should the victim choose to so seek justice and ensure whoever is responsible ends up behind bars.”

Keeley Roe, Associate Head of Healthcare, Mountain Healthcare: “The opening of The Angel SARC is not merely opening doors but an avenue for sexual assault victims in the North East to receive the free, quality and confidential care and support that they deserve. In partnership with the NHSE and Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner, we are committed at Mountain Healthcare to providing the best quality healthcare and trauma-informed services to ensure equal, effective and efficient care to every patient in the North East 24/7/365. ”

Kate Davies CBE, NHS England’s National Director of Health and Justice, Armed Forces and Sexual Assault Services Commissioning, said, “Whilst I hope that no one will ever have to use a SARC, for people who have experienced recent or non-recent sexual assault and abuse or rape, these services are here for them.  It can take a lot to pick up the phone and take that first step – SARCs are available at any time of day or night, and will support individuals through the whole process, whatever they decide to do. The Angel Centre is no exception and has worked tirelessly with people who have lived experience to ensure a safe space is provided to those who need it.”

Assistant Chief Constable Alastair Simpson, of Northumbria Police, said: “As a Force, we take all reports of sexual offences extremely seriously and are absolutely committed to supporting victims and bringing offenders to justice. The Angel Centre is a fantastic facility which first and foremost provides specialist, tailored support to survivors. It is also somewhere we can secure evidence to help pursue an investigation to bring those responsible for such abhorrent offences to justice. Recognising how difficult it can be for victims to come forward, a key aim of the centre was to create a space and environment where people feel as safe and comfortable as possible. We hope that knowing that this centre exists will encourage more brave victims to take that initial step and increase their confidence in coming forward to seek support. We want our message to all victims to be a clear one – we are here for you.”