It’s been one year since the launch of SARSVL’s Counselling Service! Female survivors in Leeds are able to request specialist counselling to support their mental health following rape and sexual violence. SARSVL is pleased to offer this in addition to our Helpline Service and Advocacy Service.

At present, we are the only organisation in Leeds offering specialist counselling in a women-only space for any type of sexual violence a woman might have experienced at any point in her life. Therefore the response to offering this has been significant. This sadly highlights how many women have experienced sexual violence, and our service users report they have been unable to access this kind of help previously. We hope that our efforts to help survivors in this way means there is somewhere women can go for this kind of help, if the time is right for them to undertake therapeutic work.

The impact of sexual violence is often traumatic, reaching well beyond an individual woman’s mental health. It can affect her ability to engage in normal daily life, including being able to work, study, and look after any children she might have. Our all-female team works from several theoretical approaches to try and improve the mental health of survivors, most of whom experience post-trauma symptoms in addition to common mental health problems such as depression and anxiety.

Post-trauma symptoms can include: poor sleep, nightmares and flashbacks about the sexual violence, feeling unsafe in your surroundings (hyper-vigilance), feeling angry or irritable, and difficulty concentrating. These prevent a woman from moving forward in her life, as her body and mind are forced to re-live the trauma repeatedly. This can translate to having difficulties in: understanding and processing what happened, trusting people, having relationships, and difficulties in sexual intimacy.

Lots of women can turn to substance abuse, self-harm and suicidal thoughts as ways to cope with how they are feeling. Many women have felt unable to tell people they trust, or report to the Police, about their experiences of sexual violence. If they have been able to do this, often they are faced with other people’s opinions on what they should do, and what happened – sometimes to the extent that they are not heard. At SARSVL we start by believing a woman’s account of sexual violence, and take it seriously.

As such the impact of sexual violence can make women’s worlds very small. Counselling at SARSVL aims to help women manage and improve their mental health, and eventually be better able to participate in life. We believe everyone has the right to move freely and safely, without fear.

If you would like to access our specialist Counselling Service, visit this page on our website where you can download further information and a referral form. You can request a paper copy of these via: counselling@sarsvl.org.uk, or by calling the Counselling Service directly on: 0113 200 2936.