Group of female colleagues sat in meeting.

Multidisciplinary Evaluation of Sexual Assault Referral Centres for better Health (MESARCH)


This project was funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Health and Social Care Delivery Research Programme [16/117/04]. The views expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the NIHR or the Department of Health and Social Care.

National Institute for Health Research.

Academic team

Dr Lorna O’Doherty, Professor of Trauma, Mental Health and Recovery research, Centre for Healthcare and Communities

Dr Grace Carter, Research Fellow of Abuse, Trauma and Forensic Psychology, Centre for Healthcare and Communities

Project overview

MESARCH was a mixed-methods, multi-study evaluation of Sexual Assault Referral Centres (SARCs), including a prospective study into the health and wellbeing of survivors of sexual assault, rape and abuse who had accessed SARCs.

With backing from NHS England and £1.3m in funding from the National Institute for Health and Care Research, MESARCH examined the benefits and costs of SARCs to service users, including the interventions and support that SARCs offer, experiences of the SARC workforce, and the role of SARCs in the wider sexual assault services landscape. The project included widespread engagement of Rape Crisis centres and providers of Independent Sexual Violence Advisers. Our slogan, ‘A Thousand Voices for Change’ brought together survivors from across the country as participants and as co-producers of the research working with charities, the NHS, police and researchers in sexual violence and abuse, economics, medicine, statistics, criminology and public health.

MESARCH commenced in September 2018 and completed in January 2023. It was commissioned by the NIHR’s Health and Social Care Delivery Research Programme (16/117/04). Our work was led by Prof Lorna O’Doherty based at Coventry University in partnership with University of Bristol, University of Birmingham, University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Trust, University of Hertfordshire, University of Leicester, Rape Crisis England and Wales, police and several charity partners. Findings are in press, to be released in the NIHR Journals Library in 2024 and two Cochrane Reviews have been published. The team continues to work with NHS England with the intention to optimise implementation of its findings towards improving the care and support available to survivors of sexual violence and abuse.

To find out more about us and our cutting edge work, please visit our website.

To find out more about us, please contact

Follow us on X: @TheMesarchStudy

See highlights of our outputs below.

Select publications from the MESARCH project

O’Doherty, L., Carter, G., Sleath, E., Brown, K., Brown, S., Lutman-White, E., Jackson, L., Heron, J., Tek Kalsi, P., Ladeinde, O., Whitfield, D., Caswell, R., Gant, M., Halliwell, G., Patel, R., Feder, G. (In Press). Care and support by Sexual Assault Referral Centres (SARCs) in England for survivors of sexual violence and abuse: a mixed-methods study (MESARCH). NIHR Journals Library.

O’Doherty, L., Carter, G., Lutman-White E., and Etwaria, R. (In Press). Bringing survivor involvement into the mainstream. In B. Winder, N. Blagden, H. Swaby, K. Hocken, R. Lievesley, C.A. Harper, and P. Banyard (Eds.), Sexual Crime, Victims and Survivors. Springer Nature.

O’Doherty, L., Whelan, M., Carter, G.J, Brown, K., Tarzia, L., Hegarty, K., Feder, G., & Brown S.J. Psychosocial interventions for survivors of rape and sexual assault experienced during adulthood. (2023). Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, Issue 10. Art. No.: CD013456. DOI:10.1002/14651858.CD013456.pub2. 

Brown, S., Carter, G., Halliwell, G., Brown, K., Caswell, R., Howarth, E., Feder, G., & O’Doherty, L. (2022) Survivor, family and professional experiences of psychosocial interventions for sexual abuse and violence: a qualitative evidence synthesis. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. Oct 4;10(10):CD013648. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD013648.pub2. PMID: 36194890; PMCID: PMC9531960.

O’Doherty, L., Carter, G., Lutman-White, E., Caswell, R., Jackson, L., Feder, G., Heron, J., Morris. R. & Brown, K. (2022) Multi-disciplinary Evaluation of Sexual Assault Referral Centres for better Health (MESARCH): protocol for a 1-year cohort study examining health, well-being and cost outcomes in adult survivors of sexual assault attending SARCs in England. BMJ Open. DOI: 10.1136/bmjopen-2021-057449 


WhatAreYouDoing is a video campaign to enhance public understanding about abuse in young people’s relationships. The film shows that we can all play a part in preventing sexual and domestic abuse.

This project has been led by Coventry University, in partnership with Coventry Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre, Coventry City Council, Coventry Haven Women’s Aid and the MESARCH study. The project is part-funded by Coventry University’s UK City of Culture grants.

Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) Infographic

Using data gathered directly from SARC managers, in coordination with the MIMOS project and from analysis of NHS England SARC data, the MESARCH team have developed this infographic with the aim of raising the visibility of SARCs.

We understand how valuable it is for providers to know what to do and who to contact at the point of disclosure, so please use this infographic to learn more about SARCs and how they can help.

Download the SARC Infographic


We have produced briefing papers that highlight the key findings from our Cochrane Reviews into interventions for sexual assault, and experiences and perspectives of survivors, supporters and practitioners. Separate briefings are available for commissioners, providers and practitioners, and survivors.

Our work with survivors

Public and Patient Involvement (PPI) refers to involving patients, members of the population directly or indirectly affected by the target problem and/or members of the public in the research process. In MESARCH, we worked with survivors of sexual violence and abuse. It was paramount that the voices of survivors were embedded across the project to ensure it was survivor-centred. For us, this meant ensuring that survivors’ voices shaped the direction and methods of the research from the outset. It was anticipated that this would strengthen the credibility of the research findings and was critical for avoiding re-traumatising survivors as research participants at the point of engaging them to join the research and during their participation. We also recognised that the role of survivors could provide an important perspective to inform the research team's knowledge gaps and training needs throughout the project.  

Our Lived Experiences Group included 11 survivors from a range of backgrounds and life experiences, who were supported by a dedicated public engagement officer to enable co-design and a co-production approach across the project.

We recently co-authored with survivors of abuse a book chapter (Bringing survivor involvement into the mainstream) about our experiences of working with survivors in relation to PPI. We critically examine the risks and benefits of engaging with survivors across the research process regarding the quality of research in this field and what involvement means for survivors as participants and as architects of research.

In an effort to promote reflection and learning about embedding lived expertise in MESARCH, we commissioned an independent, survivor-led organisation (Survivors’ Voices) to evaluate it. It was identified that the project succeeded in centring survivors’ voices and had elements of survivor leadership, with its strongest areas being: safety, promoting self-care, amplifying survivors’ voices, empowerment and liberation.

The independent evaluation report can be read here

One of the few projects I have been involved in where they got a really good balance between high professional standards in research and high levels of advocacy for the groups on behalf of which they were working.

A Better Way: An independent review of survivor involvement in the mesarch project
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University of the year shortlisted
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