Funding SARSAS in Somerset for females with learning disabilities and/or autism and/or female abuse victims

Funding SARSAS to adapt its service further in Somerset for Autistic women and/or women with learning disabilities who have experienced sexual violence or abuse.

As women with a learning disability and/or autism are, according to national statistics, four times more likely to experience abuse than non-disabled women, SARSAS (Somerset and Avon Rape and Sexual Abuse Support) is a charity providing a ‘gold standard’ support service.

Recognising a need for a more adapted service across Somerset for women with a learning disability and/or autism, SARSAS applied and were awarded a Discovery Community grant in July last year.

The funding has allowed SARSAS to develop its specialist service for autistic women and women with learning disabilities in Somerset. The service provides one to one practical and emotional support, working with people for up to six months.

The benefit of the funding is that there’s no other service providing this [in Avon and Somerset]… for autistic women and women with learning disabilities. We are able to provide a person-centred support to meet the needs of the individual.

We work across the district so we can see people out in the community and we can see people online or on the telephone. We’re trying to be as accessible as we can, making sure that we’re breaking down some of these barriers that we know people already experience.

SARSAS Support Services Manager Sadie Webber

    The funding also provides group work opportunities:

    • In the first year, SARSAS developed a new trauma-informed art group and an online trauma-informed group for autistic women living in Somerset.
    • The group provided a supportive and safe space to come together to learn coping skills, understand how our bodies react to trauma and identify ways to move forward after sexual violence.

    This makes people feel as though, ‘I’m not the only one experiencing this’. And this is bringing people together for that peer support..

    SARSAS Support Services Manager Sadie Webber

    The funding also has a focus on prevention by providing healthy relationship and consent workshops around Somerset communities have already.

    • The workshops introduce questions around what is a healthy relationship?
    • What is an unhealthy relationship?
    • What is consent, and how do you show it?

    In order for the service to grow further, the funding is helping develop a professional digital toolkit that will be launching soon – designed for frontline support workers – focusing on having conversations about disclosure and sexual violence and providing information and guidance.

    I see that toolkit as something we can share far and wide, nationally, locally, regionally…because we are one of the very few organisations that’s doing this work across the country and it is important to raise awareness of the barriers people face in seeking support..

    SARSAS Support Services Manager Sadie Webber

    SARSAS discovered the funding because they are “always looking for new possibilities” and are thankful for what it has helped achieve in the past couple of years. They say that the support they received in applying was “fabulous” and that it “felt like a collaborative project…”

    Without this fund, we wouldn’t be able to offer the service we’re currently providing in Somerset which is life-changing for some of the people who use it…

    27 women supported with up to six months of one-to-one specialist support work, providing both practical and emotional support in the first year of funding SARSA.

    My support worker understood my learning disability and gave me one-to-one support. She understood that I needed to go slow and was patient with me. She taught me what boundaries were – this was a real eye opener! She taught me about respect and what intimacy can be. The tools and support she has given me are so precious.

    The support was beyond words! She was amazing. What I have learnt I will treasure forever.

    Find out more about the Discovery Community Fund.

    To find out more about SARSAS visit