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About #CheckWithMeFirst

Why do we need #CheckWithMeFirst?

The Crime Survey for England and Wales 2020 (CSEW) estimated that 1.6 million people aged 16 and over had experienced rape or sexual assault, although less than one in six reported what had happened to them.

Whilst every survivor will be affected differently, the impact of trauma on the developing neural and immune system may mean a survivor of childhood sexual assault is up to 14 times more likely to attempt suicide, three times more likely to have heart disease, and eight times more likely to get cancer. Survivors of rape and sexual assault are much more likely to suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder resulting in flashbacks, panic attacks, nightmares and depression.

Survivors of rape, sexual assault and abuse are more likely to experience a range of physical health problems as a result of the trauma they have suffered [1], and have an increased risk of issues such as lung disease, arthritis, chronic pain, and mental health issues [2].

Often when survivors of sexual assault need to visit a medical professional, memories can surface due to the nature of the examination and lack of control the person might feel. This can result in many survivors avoiding making or attending appointments altogether, despite the risk to their health [3]. Survivors often make a choice not to disclose their experience of sexual assault or abuse to the authorities, and many survivors do not want their medical records to contain this information.

As a healthcare professional, you are likely working with survivors of sexual violence and abuse every single day, even if they do not disclose to you.

However, despite the prevalence of rape and sexual abuse in society, the impact of sexual trauma is often not adequately dealt with during professional training.  Many NHS professionals we have spoken to have said that they have received little-to-no training in this area. This gap in training has left many healthcare professionals unaware of the prevalence of sexual abuse and the extent to which associated trauma can impact survivors and the way they access healthcare. 

What do we do:

Survivors have told us time and time again that one thing that would really help them get through their medical appointments would be for healthcare professionals to let them know what they need to do and why, and to ask for consent, for every step of the procedure. That is why we’ve chosen to launch the project under the slogan ‘#CheckWithMeFirst‘. 

Importantly, survivors often tell us they want the focus to remain on the reason they have sought an appointment and not switch to a focus on any past experiences of trauma.

This is why the core messaging of the #CheckWithMeFirst project is to encourage NHS professionals to make small but crucial adjustments in their approach, for example, explaining what will happen and asking the person under their care if there is anything that makes them feel anxious about the procedure before and during it, enabling the person to feel more in control. It also aims to empower survivors to let their practitioner know what might help them to better cope with their appointment, whether or not they choose to disclose recent or non-recent abuse.

The #CheckWithMeFirst project aims to raise awareness of the ways that healthcare professionals can help survivors feel more comfortable and supported during their healthcare journeys, improving their health outcomes. The training highlights small, reasonable adjustments you can make to help survivors of rape, sexual abuse and sexual violence feel more comfortable and empowered when accessing healthcare services. 

The workshops are available to all patient-facing Healthcare Professionals and cover trauma-informed practice, the prevalence of sexual abuse and how this impacts the way that survivors access healthcare services, handling disclosures, self-care and how to avoid vicarious trauma, and how to refer survivors to specialist support.

 

[1] Kamiya et al., 2016 International psychogeriatrics, 28(3), pp.415-422.

[2] McCarthy-Jones, S. and McCarthy-Jones, R., 2014., Child abuse & neglect, 38(12), pp.2007-2020.

[3] Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust & Rape Crisis England and Wales, 2018.