FEMALE victims of rape and sexual abuse in the Taunton, Wellington and West Somerset areas will no longer have to suffer in silence thanks to a new support group.

Women and girls can access locally-based support services through a helpline set up last Friday, while a counselling service will be available from January.

Somerset and Avon Rape and Sexual Abuse Support (SARSAS) will offer assistance to over 10,500 women who experience rape or sexual violence every year in the Avon and Somerset Police force area.

Run by women for women of all ages and backgrounds, it has grown out of Bristol Rape Crisis after bosses admitted services to victims were previously “limited or non-existent”.

SARSAS director Rowan Miller said: “It’s critical that women and girls who experience sexual violence are able to receive specialised support when and where they need it in order to be able to rebuild and move forward with their lives.

“The vast majority of survivors do not report the offences against them to the police but still suffer the devastating consequences that can last for years and even decades.

“We’re pleased to be able to extend the services of what was previously Bristol Rape Crisis to these new areas.

“The three-year funding commitment from the Ministry of Justice acknowledges the importance of ensuring services for all survivors and means women will have access to locally-based holistic services that meet their particular needs.”

The service will provide safe and confidential support through a helpline, one-to-one support and counselling to help survivors regain their health and wellbeing.

The freephone helpline - 0808-8010456 - is open Mondays and Fridays 11am to 2pm and Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, 6pm to 8.30pm.

Avon and Somerset Police and Crime Commissioner Sue Mountstevens said: “I’m thrilled that Bristol Rape Crisis has received funding and further independent support will be offered to women across the whole of Avon and Somerset.

“It’s vital that women and girls who experience sexual violence are able to access services when and where they need them.”

Force ‘rape champion’ Chief Supt Sarah Crew said: “I’ve seen many positive developments in recent years, but this launch is giving the area, its communities and survivors a new and enhanced level of high quality and comprehensive service provision.”

You can also contact SARSAS by e-mail on support@sarsas.org.uk