The Bridge Sexual Assault Referral Centre opened its door to victims of rape and sexual assault in autumn 2009. Their mission statement is
“The Bridge exists to offer emotional, psychological, medical, forensic and practical help to anyone who has been asexually abused, empowering them to make choices in their journey towards recovery”
The majority of clients who access the services of The Bridge are women. The Bridge is funded by NHS England and Avon & Somerset Police & Crime Commissioner (PCC). However, in order to provide the additional comforts that are often vital to recovery, The Bridge rely on a charitable fund.
In 2014 Soroptimist International (SI) Bristol, adopted The Bridge as their charity of the year. This was an incredibly brave decision, as sexual assault is not something that people generally wish to acknowledge happens in our society. As a result of this funding, The Bridge was able to open a new and innovative service, offering counselling to parents and partners of victims of rape and sexual assault.
This service known as PP Service, has been inundated with new clients and there is now a waiting list for access. The service is not funded by NHS England or the PCC and still relies on charitable donations to provide the service.
Following the introduction of the PP service, which without the help of the Soroptimists, would not have reach fruition, The Bridge introduced a new way of working called the bio-pyscho-social model. This is an acknowledgment that rape does not happen in isolation and effects many parts of a person’s life – their physical wellbeing (bio); their emotional wellbeing (psycho) and their social activities (social) such as work, friends, parents, college, school etc.
Likewise their journey towards recovery also needs to encompass all three of those elements. The Bridge offers medical assistance (including forensic medical examination, emergency contraception, Hep B vaccination, HIV PEPSE etc). Our specialised counselling services offer the psychological support including such innovative treatments for PTSD as EMDR. The dedicated Crisis Workers offer support and signposting for the social aspect moving forward
From the first day that The Bridge opened the Bristol Soroptimists have been our greatest supporters. Apart from the wonderful work mentioned above when The Bridge was their charity of the year; the Soroptimists make a difference to our clients each and every day,
Victims of rape arrive at The Bridge in an acute state, often within hours of the assault. They are confused and disorientated. Most want to have a shower and ‘wash’ the perpetrator off their bodies. Once the examination has taken place to gather forensic evidence and to treat any injuries, the client wishes to have a shower and feel clean again.
They are able to do this on one of our en-suite examination rooms. However, what makes the biggest difference to them is being able to wash their hair, brush their teeth, clean their bodies and be tender to themselves. The Soroptimists have provided The Bridge with shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, tooth paste, toothbrushes and mouth wash for over 7 years. This is something that The Bridge are not funded for but can be the most vital part of the journey for a victim of rape or sexual assault.
Clients report that being to stand under a shower and wash away the dirt, the body fluids and in effect the perpetrator is one of the most important things to them. To then be able to be tender to their bodies by covering themselves in wonderful body lotion can help them feel human and worthwhile again. Can you think of a time when you yourself have had a ‘bad hair day’ and how much better you felt once you were able to wash your hair? Imagine that feeling if your whole body has had a ‘bad day’.
It is a crucial part of a Bridge client’s journey towards recovery. At that very early stage to be able to ‘wash away’ the badness and be clean again can have a profound impact on the remainder of their journey. Without the continued support of our VBFF (Very Best Friends Forever) SI Bristol, The Bridge would struggle to provide the service to our clients. At times clients who come to The Bridge are homeless, some are street sex workers. We are able to give them a small bag of toiletries to take away with them.
The Bridge received a commendation from University Hospitals Bristol in 2015 for our work with victims of rape and we never ever forget that The Bridge ‘family’ is so much bigger than just those who work there and we accepted the award for The Bridge staff and our wonder friends – SI Bristol. We remain so grateful for all the support and love you extend to us.