Rape Crisis Centres
What is a Rape Crisis Centre (RCC)?
Rape Crisis Centres (RCCs) are dedicated to supporting people who have experienced rape, sexual violence, sexual abuse or any form of sexual violence. They offer free-of-charge, specialist, trauma-informed, evidence-based support services in a dedicated, safe and non-threatening environment.
These services include helplines, anonymous listening services, face-to-face counselling and support, support groups, advocacy (including ISVAs, who help with accessing and navigating the legal system) and practical support. They can also help friends, family, professionals and others who are supporting survivors.
What is the role of Rape Crisis England & Wales (RCEW)?
Rape Crisis England & Wales (RCEW) is an umbrella body working to co-ordinate and support a network of independent affiliated Rape Crisis Centres (RCCs) across England and Wales.
The first RCC in the UK opened in 1973. By 2003, more RCCs had been established across the UK and they joined forces to form a coordinated group. However, it wasn't until 2007 that this network of RCCs formally registered as a charity, Rape Crisis England & Wales (RCEW). Since then, although Rape Crisis Centres are technically autonomous, they work together under the umbrella of Rape Crisis England & Wales. This allows them to share information, expertise and provide a voice to victims and survivors on a local, regional and national level. Member centres of RCEW are also required to adhere to professional membership criteria.
What is the local Rape Crisis Centre in Oxford?
The RCC in Oxford is called OSARCC (Oxfordshire Sexual Abuse and Rape Crisis Centre).
To find your local RCC outside of Oxford, use the RCEW locator service here.
You can find out more about local support services here.
What is OSARCC and what does it do?
OSARCC was established in 1979 as a collective of women volunteering to support survivors via an anonymous listening service. It registered as a charity in 2009 and now offers a variety of support, including advocacy.
Do Rape Crisis Centres only support women?
All RCCs provide support to women and girls, but there is a nationwide movement for all RCCs to broaden the scope of their support, by formally expanding their inclusion criteria to include transgender women and people of all genders assigned female at birth (AFAB). More than half of RCCs also provide support to men, including Oxford's rape crisis centre, OSARCC, which has begun expanding some types of support to survivors of all genders.
OSARCC's ISVA services are open to people of all genders, including men.
OSARCC also runs support groups, counselling and other in-person welfare services that are open to cis-women, trans women and/or AFAB people.
Why did Rape Crisis Centres traditionally only support women and girls?
Rape Crisis Centres (RCCs) were established with the understanding that sexual violence disproportionately affects women, i.e. is a form of gender-based violence, acting as both a cause and consequence of gender inequality. Therefore, the strategy was to offer a gender-specific, evidence-based response in order to tackle the structural inequality embedded in society and in gender relations. This included creating a safe space by women, for women that allowed for more open conversations around sexuality, consent, gender stereotypes and misogynistic rape myths.
There is a nationwide movement for all RCCs to support all survivors regardless of gender. However, the speed of this transition is limited in part by a lack of funding needed to expand services.
How do I seek help from a Rape Crisis Centre (RCC)?
For OSARCC (Oxfordshire Sexual Assault and Rape Crisis Centre), call 01865 725311 or email email@example.com for an appointment or referral. You can also refer yourself to their services using the form here: www.dpmscloud.com/external/referralformselfosarcc
Alternatively, you can call 0800 783 6294, text 07537 432 442 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for a confidential listening space. Visit their Contact Us page for more information about how to reach them and what their opening hours are.
To find your local RCC outside of Oxford, use the RCEW locator service here.
If you have reported to the police, the officer assigned to you may suggest and handle a referral to an RCC for you.
What is the Listening Service?
The listening service allows you to rant, vent and talk about things you may be ashamed, angry, sad or confused about, and receive thoughtful, meaningful and well-written responses from women specially trained in handling sexual assault cases. They may offer refreshing insights, practical advice or simply a listening ear.
You can call 0800 783 6294, text 07537 432 442 or email email@example.com for a confidential listening space provided by OSARCC. Visit their Contact Us page for more information about how to reach them and what their opening hours are.
You don't need a referral to access the listening service. You don't need to give your real name.
Independent Sexual Violence Advisors
What is an ISVA?
Independent Sexual Violence Advisors (ISVAs) work with adults who have experienced sexual violence to help them get access to the services they need. People under 18 years old use a Children’s Independent Sexual Violence Advisor (CHISVA).
The ISVA's primary role is to provide comprehensive emotional and practical support to survivors.
For instance, they may (with your consent):
refer you and accompany you to Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) services,
help you access sexual violence counselling (see our Mental Health support page),
help you with other needs, including health and social care, housing, or benefits.
An ISVA is especially useful when it comes to navigating reporting within your college, the university or the criminal justice system. They can help you understand your options and the reporting process, and help you prepare for and accompany you to any meetings, including with the police. If you are considering reporting to the police or have reported already, we highly recommend getting an ISVA as soon as possible. ISVAs are separate and independent from the police.
ISVA services are free, confidential and non-directive, meaning that they will simply explain the different options and resources available to you, but they will not try to influence your decision on what action to take next.
Can I only use an ISVA if I plan to report to the police?
No. An ISVA is useful regardless of whether or not you plan to report your experience to the police.
However, if you do plan on reporting to the police, we strongly advise having an ISVA to support you, as they can be an invaluable resource as you prepare for and go through the process.
If you plan on reporting to your college, department or central university, we recommend using the Oxford University ISVA specifically.
Do ISVAs only support female survivors?
ISVAs support survivors of all genders, including men and genderqueer people.
What ISVAs are available?
In Oxford, the available ISVAs are:
Oxfordshire Community ISVA (run by OSARCC)
Oxford University ISVA (run by OSARCC)
Formerly, there was also the Refuge Thames Valley ISVA (run by Refuge and Thames Valley Police), but in April 2020, this service was absorbed into Victims First Specialist Services, which now uses the ISVAs provided by OSARCC.
OSARCC is also now recruiting for a Brookes University ISVA.
We recommend that students use their university ISVA, if possible.
If you need to find an ISVA outside of Oxford, contact the local SARC, RCC or police station.
You can find out more about local support services in Oxford here.
How does the Oxford University ISVA work?
The Oxford University ISVA is a professional staff member employed by OSARCC.
The University of Oxford pays OSARCC to maintain an ISVA specifically for Oxford students.
Nevertheless, the Oxford University ISVA functions completely independently from Oxford University and its Sexual Violence Service, although the Service may refer people to the Oxford University ISVA. The Oxford University ISVA will never share any information that you disclose with the University, its Service or its Colleges without your explicit consent.
The Oxford University ISVA may be especially good at understanding and navigating the (sometimes complex) workings of the university and how this affects the experiences that survivors may have in this unique setting.
Sexual Assault Referral Centres
What is a Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC)?
Sexual Assault Referral Centres (SARCs) offer crisis services to people of all ages and genders, such as:
collecting forensic evidence
emergency contraception (morning-after pill)
STI preventative treatment (e.g. post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) to prevent HIV infection; emergency vaccination against hepatitis B)
genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinics, A&E, or GP clinics if there are health concerns, such as infections or injuries.
other specialist sexual violence support services, such as an independent sexual assault advisor (ISVA) or a rape crisis centre (RCC)
Most importantly, SARCs are the only specialists able to collect forensic evidence, allowing survivors the flexibility to choose to report to the police in the future, even if they aren't ready to right now. Having evidence can really help build a case (and clarify to the survivor what happened), especially in cases where the survivor has difficulty remembering or may have been spiked.
What is a Forensic Medical Examination (FME)?
A forensic medical examination is a special medical check-up performed at the request of the survivor to discover, record and collect forensic evidence that could be helpful to law enforcement, such as DNA evidence from the perpetrator and/or the nature and extent of the survivor's bodily injuries (if any).
What happens in an FME?
You can ask questions, take a break or stop at any point of an FME.
You will be brought to a private room and interviewed about your medical history. Then, a "top-to-toe examination" will be performed by a physician who has been specially trained for the purpose.
With your permission, they may:
look for any injuries (such as cuts and bruises) and carefully note where they are and what they look like
take pictures of your body to document injuries
collect and package your clothing, such as underwear
collect and package the clothing you were wearing when you were assaulted
collect and package physical evidence related to the perpetrator, such as a torn piece/strand of the perpetrator's clothing, stray hair, or debris
take samples, using cotton wool swabs, from your skin and the areas involved in the assault, such as your vagina, anus or mouth
take a blood sample
take a urine sample
Who will be there at an FME?
For the "top-to-toe examination", you will be in a private room with a specially-trained health professional (a doctor or nurse) and a crisis worker (assigned to you), who will be able to explain everything that's happening. Normally, you can ask for the health professional examining you and/or your crisis worker to be a woman.
You can choose to have someone (e.g. a friend, family member, college welfare officer, ISVA officer) stay with you as well (or wait outside). You can also bring an interpreter if you need one.
If you have already reported to the police and your SARC referral has been handled by the police, a police officer may also come to the SARC with you.
What is the difference between an FME and other medical check-ups?
A medical exam is solely for health purposes, while a forensic medical exam collects and preserves forensic evidence that can be used in police investigations and in a court of law.
While GPs, GUM clinics and A&Es are able to provide medical care, only SARCs can conduct a sexual assault forensic medical exam.
What is Oxford's SARC?
The nearest SARC in Oxford is called Solace SARC.
Do SARCs only support female survivors?
SARCs support people of all genders, including women, men and genderqueer people.
Do I have to pay for a SARC visit?
No, you do not have to pay for a SARC visit.
However, there may be travel costs. A taxi from your college to the nearest SARC, Solace SARC (Bicester), may cost £45-75 (one way).
OSARCC and some colleges provide free taxis to Solace SARC for this reason. To access this, contact the Oxford University ISVA via OxfordUniISVA@osarcc.org.uk or on 01865 725311 (Monday to Friday), or your college's Porter's Lodge or Welfare Officer.
FAQS about the
Sexual Harassment and Violence Support Service
What is the Sexual Harassment and Violence Support Service?
The Sexual Harassment and Violence Support Service (SHVSS, or "the Service") provides a safe space for individuals to be heard, offering support and advice to any current student at the University of Oxford who has been impacted by sexual harassment or violence, whenever or wherever this took place. They support students of any gender, sexuality, age, and student status (including suspended students).
All specialist advisors at the service are trained to support you at your pace, free of charge and in confidence. They also support students affected by stalking, relationship abuse or coercive control.
What does the Service do?
The Support Service provides support and advice on a number of topics. They can:
advise on reporting options,
discuss academic adjustments and mitigations,
talk through therapeutic support options,
discuss any concerns regarding emotional, mental, sexual or physical health, and
consider and address any safety worries.
They link with other relevant services to ensure students are receiving specialist help from the right people.
Can the Service help me report my case to the college, university or police?
The Support Service can:
provide information about the reporting options within the university and colleges,
offer ongoing support to students with an active case,
read complaints before they are submitted,
direct students to the appropriate reporting channels.
They work closely with the Oxford University ISVA (provided by OSARCC), to whom they signpost students potentially interested in reporting to the police, so that they can receive an informed choice session and specialist support.
How do I access the Service?
To refer to the Service, you should complete the online referral form – www.ox.ac.uk/self-refer.
The Service recommends that students self-refer. However, they occasionally receive third-party referrals from professionals, with the student’s consent.
They only accept referrals from individuals and professionals, not peers or friends. If you have a friend who might need support you can encourage them to refer, but it is important that they have the choice whether they would like to come or not.
What will happen after I refer myself?
An advisor will aim to contact you within 2 working days to offer you an appointment, taking into consideration your preferences for appointment type.
Can I bring someone with me to meetings with the Service?
Yes, but they may be asked to wait in the waiting room for you. The Service is aware that coming to speak about these things can be difficult, but also notes that you can have really productive conversations without having to go into the details of what has happened.
The team is also mindful of the impact a survivor's experience can have on friends, so (like other welfare services) does not tend to invite them into meetings.
I'm not sure whether what happened to me counts as sexual violence. Can I still use the Service?
Yes, definitely. The team offers support across the whole spectrum of sexual harassment and violence, and if you’re not sure what happened, they would still be happy to speak to you.
What measures does the Service take to be inclusive (e.g. for survivors who are LGBTQ+, BAME, of different religions, etc.)?
The Service tailors its support to the individual. You can share any concerns and preferences when you are referred. This allows the team to assign an advisor based on your preferences, and take your preferences into consideration if they can. Many advisors have specific experience working with LGBTQIA+ students, neurodivergent students, students of different religions, and students with disabilities.
Something happened to me but it happened before I started attending Oxford University. Can I still go to the Service?
Yes, you can still speak to the Service irrespective of when or where something happened.
If I reach out to the Service, who would know about it? Would my tutors, college or other university staff know?
Our service is confidential, so no one in your college, department, family or community will be told about what you discuss or that you’ve had an appointment.
Rarely, the team legally has a duty to share information (if there are children at risk or there is a threat to somebody's life), but if these come up, they will always talk these through with you first.
How is my information stored and for how long?
Records and case notes are typically held for seven years after you have concluded your time at the University, in line with most student data. All our records are held on a secure case management system and can only be accessed by members of the team.
Author: Nicola Sharp
Last updated: 29 April 2023
Many thanks to Beki Osborne from OSARCC, Kimberly Tompkins from Solace SARC, and Amelia Hartley from the Sexual Harassment and Violence Support Service for reviewing and contributing to the above FAQs.