Counselling for Adult Survivors of
Sexual Violence and Abuse

whoosh

At Sunderland Counselling Service we are a specialist counselling service dedicating to supporting survivors of any kind of sexual violence. We do this through our CASSVA service and our REACH service. More details about these services can be found below.

What Can We Offer?

CASSVA Counselling

Counselling Adult Survivors of Sexual Violence and Abuse (CASSVA) is a counselling service for anyone over 18, living in Sunderland, who has experienced Sexual Violence.

This experience can have happened at any time in your life, including as a child.

Please see our facts and information section to find out more about sexual violence and whether counselling is right for you.

How to Refer

To make a referral or to speak with someone for more information, please call 0191 5147007.

You can also email office@sunderlandcounselling.org.uk or complete this online form.

You will be offered an appointment to speak with one our specially trained counsellors to discuss what support is available to you.

You can access this support, even if you have not disclosed to anyone else, including the police.

Reach Counselling

Reach is a counselling service for anyone aged 16 and over, living in Newcastle or Sunderland, who has experienced Sexual Violence in the last 12 months.

Please see our facts and information section to find out more about sexual violence and whether counselling is right for you.

You can access this support, even if you have not disclosed to anyone else, including the police.

How to Refer

If you’d like to make a self-referral, you must contact your local Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) by calling 033 3344 8283 or through this website: www.reachsarc.org.uk. Here you can access counselling, and other support such as support through the court system or support from an Independent Sexual Violence Advisor (ISVA)

If you are a professional and would like to make a referral on behalf of someone you are supporting.

Please download and complete this Reach referral form and email it to: office.reach@scs.cjsm.net

You will be offered an appointment to speak with one our specially trained counsellors to discuss what support is available to you.

Facts and Information

What is Sexual Violence?

Any unwanted and non-consenting physical, visual or verbal sexual act or activity that feels like a threat, invasion or assault. Any situation where someone is forced to take part in unwanted, unsafe or degrading sexual activity.

Examples of this include:

  • Childhood sexual abuse
  • Rape
  • Sexual assault
  • Statutory Rape
  • Grooming and Sexual Exploitation
  • Institutional Sexual Abuse
  • Sexual Exploitation by forced prostitution
  • Modern Day Slavery
  • Sex trafficking
  • Sexual exploitation through pornography (sometimes called revenge porn)
  • Sexual Coercion
  • FGM and other Genital Mutilation.

What is Consent?

The Sexual Offences Act 2003 states that ‘A person consents if he/she agrees by choice and has the freedom and capacity to make that choice’.

Consent is having a choice about whether you do or do not want to engage in sexual activity with someone.

Freedom and Capacity are both very important parts of making a choice and a person must have both of these to give true consent under the law.

  • You are free to make a choice if you are making that choice without a threat to your safety or the safety of someone you love. This includes physical threat to life, as well as threat to your livelihood and property.

For example, if you only consent to sexual activity because if you don’t you will be harmed, this is not consent in the under the law.

You have the capacity to make that choice if you are:

  • over the age of 16
  • You are considered to have mental capacity under the law
  • You are not under a deprivation of liberty court order
  • You are not incapacitated due to drugs and/or alcohol.

For example, a person who is unconscious will never have the capacity to consent.

The age of consent in UK is 16 years old. Anyone under the age of 13 can never legally give consent.

If you are aged 16 or 17 it is also illegal to:

  • to take, show or distribute indecent photographs
  • pay for or arrange sexual services

It is illegal for a person in a position of trust, such as a teacher, to engage in sexual activity with anyone under the age of 18.

The Sexual Offenses Act 2003 makes it clear that it is the responsibility of a person to gain consent for sexual activity. It is not enough to have an absence of ‘no’ there must be the presence of a ‘yes’. 

Consent is a free and enthusiastic yes! Please see below an easy to understand video explaining consent.

Have I been Sexually Assaulted?

After experiencing a sexual assault, you may feel many emotions including: Shock, numbness, fear, anger, distress and confusion. Here are some commonly asked questions that might help you understand what has happened to you:

What if I didn’t or couldn’t say no? - Sometimes saying no can put you in more danger of physical harm. Sometimes you are threatened with violence to say yes, other times the threat is not obvious, but you are still afraid to say no.
The Sexual Offenses Act 2003 makes it clear that it is the responsibility of a person to gain consent for sexual activity. It is not enough to have an absence of ‘no’ there must be the presences of a ‘yes’.
Not saying no doesn’t mean you consented. Consent is a free and enthusiastic yes.
What if I didn’t physically fight them or run away? - Often, fighting back or running away can put you in more danger of physical harm.
Even if you think you would fight back, you often do not have control over how your body and brain will respond to a physical attack. Please see our section ‘What happens to my brain and body if I experience Sexual Violence? (link)
If you didn’t say yes or were forced into a sexual act without your consent, this is sexual assault. Not fighting back doesn’t mean you consented. Consent is a free and enthusiastic yes.
What if there wasn’t any physical violence? - Sexual violence can be emotional, verbal or physical. Sometimes the threat of violence is obvious and sometimes it is hidden or implied and you still feel scared or forced into sexual activity.
What if we are in a relationship? - The Sexual Offences Act 2003 states that so called ‘marital rape’ is always illegal, as well as any non-consensual sexual activity within a relationship.
Consent for sex or sexual activity must be given at every sexual encounter. Saying yes to a relationship, marriage, or yes to other sexual contact or activity once, does not mean someone has the right for sexual contact in the future.
It is very difficult when someone you know breaks your trust and can leave you feeling angry, hurt and scared. It is important to remember that even if you know the person, any sexual contact without your consent is still assault.
What if I don’t remember what happened to me? - Memory loss can be a common response to sexual assault. Our brain and body can sometimes suppress traumatic events in order to help us cope. Alcohol and drugs can also cause memory loss too.
Counselling can be helpful to explore a ‘felt sense’ of sexual assault that is held in the body, even if the memory is not there.
If you think something has happened recently, a medical exam may be able to determine if you were raped. You are can contact the Sexual Assault Referral Centre 24/7 on 03333448283 for this.
What if I was asleep or unconscious? - If you are asleep or unconscious, you cannot give consent for sexual contact. Sexual contact without consent is assault.
What if I was under the influence of drugs or alcohol? - The Sexual Offences Act, 2003, states that in order to give consent, you must have the ‘capacity’ to do so. Anyone who is incapacitated by drugs or alcohol cannot give consent.
It is possible to give consent when under the influence of drugs or alcohol. However, your capacity to consent can reduce with each drink and whether you are incapacitated depends on your ability can make an informed decision, free from threat or intimidation. If you felt too drunk to say no and someone did something to you anyway, that is sexual assault.
If the person who is giving you drugs or alcohol is doing so in order to lower your ability to say no to sexual activity, this can also be sexual exploitation.
What if I said yes at first but then I changed my mind? - No one has a right to your body. If you are not comfortable or change your mind about any sexual activity, you can always stop and say no, even if you have said yes at first.
When you say no, you are no longer consenting and a partner who continues after you say no or express discomfort is violating your consent.
What if I wanted to do some sexual things, but I said no to something and they did it anyway? - You have the right to consent to every element of sexual contact. If you don’t want to do a particular sexual act, the other person must stop. If they don’t, they’ve violated your consent.
What if I told them they were hurting me but they kept doing it? - If someone continues a sexual act after you have told them it is hurting you or that you want them to stop, they are violating your consent if they continue to do this.
What if I my partner made me have sex with their friend? - If you did not want to have sex with their friend, it is possible that this is sexual exploitation, sex trafficking or sexual assault. Sometimes a partner might do this through threats of violence, coercion or threats to take something away from you.
What if I said I would only have sex with a condom, but they didn’t use one or took it off without me knowing? - This is sometimes called ‘stealthing’ and it is illegal.
If you have only consented to sex with a condom and not sex without a condom, the other person has violated your consent.
What if I didn’t know what was happening to me was wrong at the time? - This is not uncommon, especially in cases of childhood sexual abuse or sexual assault within a relationship. As a child, you do not have the understanding or knowledge of sex so you might not have known what was happening to you was wrong. In a relationship when you trust the other person, it might be hard to believe that this is happening.
At the time you may have felt scared, disgusted, upset or angry without knowing why. Or it might only be now when you remember what happened that you have those feelings.
What if they were my friend? - According to a 2013 joint overview of Sexual Offending in England and Wales, by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), Office for National Statistics (ONS) and Home Office, approximately 90% of those who are raped know the perpetrator prior to the offence.
It is very difficult when someone you know breaks your trust and can leave you feeling angry, hurt and scared. It is important to remember that even if you know the person, any sexual contact without your consent is still assault.

I have been Sexually Assaulted, what can I do?

If you are in immediate danger or need urgent support, call 999.
In the North East of England, we have a 24-hour Crisis Support Service for anyone who has been sexually assaulted. The number is 03333448283.

Across the UK, there are a number of Sexual Assault Referral Centres (SARC) who support people who have been sexually assaulted. They can provide safe, confidential support including access to medical support, police support, independent sexual violence advocacy, crisis support, information, counselling and more.

You can access SARC support no matter when the offence occurred and even if you do not want to involve the police. Crisis support workers will outline the options available and provide support throughout any subsequent process. The crisis workers will also provide help to gain access to local specialist service providers.

If you need more information, here is the North East SARC website: www.reachsarc.org.uk

Can I report what happened to me to the police?

Yes. The law recognises that some survivors of sexual violence may not feel able to discuss their experience for months or even years.

Because of this, there is no time limit for investigating and prosecuting perpetrators of sexual violence. This means that you can report sexual violence at any time to the police and it will be investigated, however long ago it happened.

The laws around sexual violence has changed over time. This means that a perpetrator will be charged with the crime that was in force at the time of abuse.

In our ‘Useful Resources and Local support services’ You will find service that can support you if you are thinking about reporting or decide to make a report to the police.

A helpful guide to look at for more information on what the legal process might look like is: 'From Report to Court' (We have a PDF of this document- could it be linked here? – or this might be better placed in the useful resources section)

What happens to my brain and body if I experience Sexual Violence?

Our brain has five responses to threat which can be triggered when our life or safety is in danger. We do not have any control over how our body will respond in these moments as it is 'pre-wired' in our brain to survive.

These five responses are:

Friend – Sometimes we will try to stop something bad happening by being friendly to the person who is threatening us. This can sometimes get them to stop by reminding them that we are human too. Smiling and trying to calm the situation often works when we are under threat. You might find yourself laughing nervously or smiling, even when you feel scared inside.

Flight – This is when we try to move away from the person who is threatening us. We might do this by running away or moving into the next room. It could also be stepping to the side or trying to put an obstacle between ourselves and the threat.

Fight – In some cases, we might try to 'fight' the person who is attacking us. This could be by kicking, screaming, pushing, scratching. This is not a common response as often the person who is attacking us is stronger or scarier. As our body and brain is trying to keep us safe and alive, you may find that you miss this response as it could put us in more danger.

Freeze – Sometimes our best response to keep us alive is to freeze. This can be when the brain realises that the attack can't be stopped, but we are still trying to stay alive. Sometimes it is because we are so scared that we are frozen in fear.

Flop – When something bad is happening to us, our brain and body will do its best to protect us. This is why flop happens as it is often the response that will save us from having painful injuries. It means our bodies feel out of control, numb and floppy. Our mind can sometimes go to a different place in our mind, or it can feel like we are outside of our bodies entirely.

Was it my fault?

No, if you are the victim of sexual violence it is never your fault

What feelings and emotions might I experience?

  • Helplessness – Feeling out of control and powerless
  • Afraid - Feeling like the world and other people are scary or unsafe. Afraid to be with others, afraid to be alone, afraid to be at home, afraid to go out. Feeling scared sometimes or all of the time.
  • Shocked – Feeling numb, detached, emotionless
  • Overwhelmed – Having too much emotion, feeling like the pain will never stop
  • Disbelief – Feeling like it didn’t really happen
  • Confused – Questioning whether it really happened
  • Detached – Not being able to cry, ‘going through the motions of life’ but not living
  • Shame – Feeling unclean, wrong or disgusting
  • Embarrassed – Worried about what people will think if they find out
  • Lost – Forgetting things, unfocussed, unsure of what is happening or what day it is
  • Guilt – Feeling like it is all your fault. Believe that you could have stopped it, fought harder
  • If only – Thinking ‘if only I had done this…’ things might have been different
  • Questioning – Asking yourself ‘Why me? What did I do to deserve this?’
  • Betrayed – Feeling pain that someone you trusted has hurt you
  • Alone – Feeling like you can’t tell anyone, even family or friends.
  • Dismissed or disbelieved – If you’ve told someone and they didn’t believe you, or made you feel like you made too big of a deal about it
  • Sad / Low / Depressed – Feeling tired, hopeless, crying, unmotivated
  • Suicidal – Feeling like there is no point in living, wanting the pain to stop and seeing no way out
  • Flashbacks – Moments where it feels like it is happening again right now. Smells, sights, sounds and tastes my trigger the memories and it feels like you are reliving the attack.
  • Nightmares – Reliving the attack in your nightmares, waking up in the night, being scared to sleep
  • Anxiety – Experiencing panic attacks, difficulty breathing, heart pounding, pain in stomach, shaky, restless, eating too much or too little
  • Anger – Wanting to hurt the person who attacked you. Feeling angry at the world, or at others who you feel have let you down
  • Self-destructive – Wanting to hurt yourself or putting yourself in dangerous situations, using drugs and alcohol to numb the pain, self-harming

What is a flashback?

  • A flashback is a powerful memory of the incident
  • A flashback can last for seconds, minutes or hours
  • A flashback make you feel like you are reliving the traumatic event again and what is in the past can feel like here and now reality
  • A flashback can trigger some or all of your senses from the memory – what you saw, what you heard, what you felt, what you smelled, what you tasted.
  • A flashback is temporary
  • A flashback can be a visual image, or it can be a body sensation when you have no conscious memory
  • A flashback can be triggered for no reasons, or by a familiar sense – like an image or a smell

What ways can I cope if I am having a flash back or I feel overwhelmed by distressing feelings?

Grounding techniques are ways to help you return to the present when you are having a flashback, panic attack or are overwhelmed by painful thoughts or feelings.

  • Breathing – Try to slow breathing down by counting breath in and out. Focus on the feeling and sound of your breath. Lift your arm up and down and try to breath in time. Notice how your breath feels in your nose, throat, chest and body.
  • Senses check – Go through each of your five senses and think about them individually. What can you see, hear, smell, taste and feel in the here and now?
  • Safe space – Imagine a place in the world where you feel safe and calm, this could be a beach or a waterfall, a meadow or anywhere that feels safe. It could be a memory of a real place, or an entirely imagined world. Imagine what your senses would feel, hear, taste, smell and see.
  • Body scan – Imagine there is a wave of light filling your body from head to toe. Start at the top of your head and focus on how each part of your body feels one by one. You may avoid thinking about or feeling any area of your body that cause. If you are struggling to feel anything, start by tightening each muscle and then releasing it.
  • Focussing – Find one item in the room you are in, for example a plant. Describe all the details of the item, think about what you like about it and what meaning it has in your life.
  • Positive affirmations - Repeat to yourself any of the following statements
    • ‘I am safe right now, nothing can hurt me’
    • ‘I am (location) and the date is (date), I am not being hurt in this moment
    • ‘In this moment I am safe’
    • ‘This is a memory, it is not happening to me right now’

What are some of the long-term impacts of sexual violence?

Sexual violence will have a different impact on everyone. It can make you feel differently about yourself and others and the world, leaving you feeling unsafe in the world and in your relationships with others.

There is no ‘right’ response to sexual violence, and no one should tell you how to behave or feel. You don’t ever need to feel ashamed about how you survived such a traumatic experience and whatever ways you managed to cope. Sometimes those ways no longer feel helpful now and you would like some support.

Some of the most common ways sexual violence can have a long-term impact are below:

  • Use of drugs and/or alcohol
  • Difficulty in finding caring and supporting relationships
  • Further experiences of sexual violence
  • Difficulty trusting in relationships
  • Issues with sexual intimacy and contact
  • Feelings of guilt, shame, anger and fear
  • Post-Traumatic Stress
  • Panic, anxiety and flashbacks

How can counselling help me?

If you do decide counselling is right for you, you will never be forced to talk about your experiences. You will work with your counsellor to feel safe in the counselling room and in the counselling relationship. You can go at the right pace for you.
In our specialist counselling service, we use a person-centred approach, which means that you guide the process and decide what is right for you.

You may be interested in one of more of the following aspects of counselling:

  • Exploring feelings and emotions related to the sexual violence
  • Telling someone what happened to you from start to finish
  • Hearing about what happens in our bodies and minds in response to sexual violence
  • Learning coping techniques to calm unwanted feelings, such as panic and flashbacks
  • Finding out more about yourself and your responses to others
  • Learning to trust another person
  • Finding comfort in a safe, caring environment with no expectations or pressures
  • Exploring the long-term impacts of sexual violence on your life

How to refer – go to CASSVA page.

Useful Resources and Local Support Services

Newcastle and Sunderland Sexual Assault Referral Centre
http://www.reachsarc.org.uk/

Victims First Northumbria provides:

Truth Project – Independent inquiry into childhood sexual abuse
https://www.truthproject.org.uk/i-will-be-heard

Survivors Network
https://survivorsnetwork.org.uk/

From Report to Court PDF – embed
Other resources

Consent is a free and enthusiastic yes!

Please see below an easy to understand video explaining consent.

What does the service offer?

Free, confidential, face to face, individual counselling from qualified and specially trained counsellors.  You can ask to be seen by either a male or female counsellor as you prefer.

Our counsellors are all specifically trained to work with sexual violence issues.  We provide our clients with an understanding, accepting and non-judgmental counselling relationship, within which clients can explore and share feelings associated with their traumatic experiences. We help clients to identify support mechanisms and choices, build self-confidence and work towards their goals.  The number of sessions a client may have varies according to need, so that we can respond to each client’s individual issues.

What do we need from clients?

There are no restrictions around when the abuse took place or if there was police involvement.

Sessions will usually be weekly with the same counsellor and it is important that clients feel able to commit to regular attendance.

Counselling can often be difficult and painful and our counsellors are there to support clients through this process.

Where does counselling take place?

Much of our counselling takes place at our main office at 51 John Street, Sunderland SR1 1QN.  Please note that both male and female clients and staff use this building. For clients who live in South Tyneside and Gateshead we will identify a suitable venue to provide counselling.

If you would like to find out more about this service or make a referral please see the “How do I refer?” section of this website or call us on 0191 514 7007