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FAQS about 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 for an appointment or referral. You can also refer yourself to their services using the form here:


Alternatively, you can call 0800 783 6294, text 07537 432 442 or email 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 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.



FAQS about ISVAs

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

  • help you with other needs, including health and social care, housing, or benefits

Importantly, an ISVA is especially useful when it comes to navigating 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 talks 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 function independently 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.

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.



FAQS about SARCs

What is a Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC)?

Sexual Assault Referral Centres (SARCs) offer a range of crisis services to people of all ages and genders, including medical support, forensics, testing for "date rape drugs" (spiking), emergency contraception and testing for STIs. They can also arrange access to an independent sexual assault advisor (ISVA), as well as referrals to mental health support and sexual violence support services (such as to a Rape Crisis Centre).


Most importantly, they are the only specialists able to collect forensic evidence, allowing survivors the flexibility to choose to report to 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 and treat any injuries, infections or other health issues;

  • discover, record and collect forensic evidence that could be helpful to law enforcement, such as DNA evidence from the perpetrator, the nature and extent of the survivor's bodily injuries (if any) or detection of "date rape drugs" (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 not only offers specialist health support for recent victims of sexual assault, but also collects and preserves forensic evidence.

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.


You can find out more about support services in Oxford here and more about emergency services here.

Do SARCs only support female survivors?

SARCs support people of all genders, including 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 or on 01865 725311 (Monday to Friday), or your college's Porter's Lodge or Welfare Officer.


Authors: Nicola Sharp

Last updated: 23 April 2022

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