Vital facts must be known by all

A SPECIALIST centre in Paddington is one of the first in London to offer help specifically to young rape victims. After noticing a gap in the system, managers at the St Mary s Hospital-based Paddington Haven – a sexual assault referral cen

Sanchez Manning

A SPECIALIST centre in Paddington is one of the first in London to offer help specifically to young rape victims.

After noticing a gap in the system, managers at the St Mary's Hospital-based Paddington Haven - a sexual assault referral centre (SARC) - piloted a scheme in 2005 that catered for the needs of young people. The project worked so well that it was given government funding to make the service permanent in 2006.

Parminder Sidhu, 28, joined the scheme at the outset and has lost no time in taking her expertise to a wider audience.

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"My role is to offer young people emotional and practical support and that can encompass all sorts of things a young person might want to talk about," she said.

"Some can discuss their feelings about the assault but some may want to talk about other things like their sexual health.

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"In 2007 we saw 168 young people but we know the number of assaults is much higher because sexual assault is always under-reported. Often young people don't know they have been assaulted. If they've been assaulted by their boyfriend, for instance, they may not think they've been raped.

"The problem is with the definition of rape because a lot of people think you can only be raped by a stranger.

"To get the message out we go to schools to give sexual violence sessions where we give definitions to dispel the myths surrounding rape. We explain that it doesn't matter what you were wearing and that a rapist can be someone you already know."

She added: "It's a difficult thing to talk about to students but they have responded really well and they appreciate someone coming in to give them an alternative point of view."

In recent months Ms Sidhu has been to schools across north-west London but has not been able to visit any schools in Westminster.

She said she has sent many requests to schools in the borough asking for permission to speak to pupils but has never received a response.

Ms Sidhu explained that she was taken on in the first place because of the lack of provision for adolescents who had been sexually assaulted.

"There was no-one to do specialist one to one work with them," she explained. "The team here at the time did their best but they didn't have the resources to spend extra time with younger people and chase up things with social services and other counselling services.

"Some of the older teens may have problems with housing, for example, and although we are not housing specialists it just takes a phone call to put them in touch with the right people."

Manager Marion Winterholler said that over the four and a half years Paddington Haven has been running, the young people's service has been one of its outstanding successes.

"It's one of the greatest things we've achieved recently," she said. "It was a pilot and now it's been so successful that it's been rolled out across the Havens in London."

o The Havens Paddington was set up in March 2004

o It sees 650 people a year - women and men of all age

o It is a 24 hour service and guarantees that when someone contacts them they will called back within one hour of their first phonecall

o The Havens is jointly funded by the Metropolitan Police and Westminster PCT

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