SEXUAL assault victims unsure if they want to report the attack to police have been urged to contact Swindon’s sexual assault referral centre.

Rapes and other sexual assaults are one of the most underreported crimes. Nationally, Office of National Statistics figures suggest that just one in six rapes were reported to police in 2017, with victims saying embarrassment, fears it would be humiliating and that they would not be believed had prevented them from reporting the crime.

However, calling 999 isn’t the only course of action open to victims. Swindon and Wiltshire Sexual Assault Referral Centre is able to support victims and take any DNA evidence independently of police – and without having to contact detectives.

Bosses at the service, which is run by charity First Light, says it affords victims extra time to decide whether or not they want to report the incident to police. The DNA can be stored at the service’s Stratton offices for two years, at which point the sample will be destroyed unless the victim has got in touch to say they want to take the case to plice.

Michele Challis, manager at the Swindon and Wiltshire SARC, said: “A lot of people are unsure of the process and how it’s all going to work.

“That is why we’re saying if you’re unsure about reporting to the police, we can help you with the start of that process – we can start it off for you.

“If they come to us and we’ve got the DNA it gives them that time to breathe. It’s empowering the client to have that control.

“We can see clients with or without police. If clients aren’t sure if they want to report to the police we can store DNA on site for a period of two years. That gives the client a bit of time to decide.”

Anyone can refer themselves to the centre Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm, and between 10am and 4pm on Saturdays. You can bring a family member, friend or attend alone.

You will be met by a crisis worker, who will speak to you about the incident. A qualified nurse will carry out a forensic medical examination. The service uses female nurses, but can contact an on-call male doctor if you would be more comfortable for that examination to be carried out by a man.

The service offers pregnancy testing, emergency contraception, sexual health advice, showering facilities and can even provide a set of new clothes. Your crisis worker can also help refer you to other services, including sexual health clinics and an independent sexual violence advisor.

The support follows the client, says Michele, who used to be based in Dorset and was an expert adviser on ITV crime drama Broadchurch.

“Everybody’s different. Everybody’s experience is different. Everybody’s coping strategies are different. We support each client on an individual basis,” she said.

“If a client doesn’t want to continue, we don’t continue.”

The majority of those accessing the service are women, many of them aged 17 to 25. A specialist Bristol-based service, called The Bridge, supports under-16s.

Currently, few men approached the SARC for help. But Michele hoped that would change: “We’d like them to. They deserve the same service.”

Police are able to refer victims to the Swindon and Wiltshire SARC any time, day or night. The service is confidential and free.

The Swindon and Wiltshire SARC is at The Gables, Shrivenham Road, South Marston. Call: 01793 781 916 or email