Concern over ‘unacceptable’ services for sex crime victims

Justice secretary Michael Matheson
Justice secretary Michael Matheson
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Victims of rape and sexual assault are being let down by “unacceptable” forensic medical services in some parts of the country, according to a report.

HM Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS) found significant variations across Scotland, which it said is “well behind” the rest of the UK in providing dedicated healthcare facilities to meet both the health needs of victims and the necessary forensic requirements.

The report said some victims of sexual crime were being asked not to wash for a day or more after an assault due to a lack of local services.

And it said children who have been sexually abused are having to travel “significant distances” to be medically examined due to a lack of paediatric services in some areas.

Assistant Inspector of Constabulary Gill Imery said: “Sexual crimes have a devastating effect on victims and so it is imperative that the support they receive, both from health and criminal justice professionals is high quality and consistent irrespective of where they live.

“There are many dedicated and committed professionals working across Scotland who are providing quality service to victims, but there is much more to be done if we are to deliver a consistent service which minimises the distress and discomfort to victims who have experienced a sexual crime.”

The report made 10 recommendations for the Scottish Government, Police Scotland and the NHS, including the “phasing out” of police premises being used for the examination of victims.

Scottish Labour justice spokesman Claire Baker MSP said: “This damning report by HMICS must provide a wake-up call for the SNP government. It is unacceptable that four years after minimum standards were announced that we still face a postcode lottery in services for victims of rape in Scotland.”

Tory justice spokeswoman Douglas Ross added: “This is a damning report that gives us further insight into the appalling treatment received by victims of sexual assault.

“These individuals have already been through a traumatic experience, so for them to be treated in this manner is simply inexcusable.”

The Scottish Government said an expert group led by Chief Medical Officer Dr Catherine Calderwood would be established to help improve the provision of health services for victims of rape and sexual assault.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told MSPs the report was “not good enough” and said there would be a ministerial statement to address the issues raised.

Justice Secretary Michael Matheson said: “The current provision of services for victims of rape and sexual assault is provided by motivated and committed professionals but more needs to be done to create a consistently high standard of service across Scotland.

“We know these individuals need the very best care at a time of great trauma and while a forensic examination may be necessary for evidential reasons, there is a need to ensure the response is first and foremost health-focused and victim-centred.”