Proposed changes to forensic services for rape victims could prevent ‘crucial evidence’ being lost

Written by Jenni Davidson on 15 February 2019 in News

The plans would allow victims of rape and sexual assault to refer themselves to forensic services without reporting a crime

NHS waiting room - Image credit: D Coetzee via Flickr

Proposed changes to forensic services for victims of rape and sexual assault could prevent vital evidence being lost as well as better supporting victims, it has been suggested.

Under new procedures proposed by the Scottish Government, victims would be able to refer themselves for forensic examination following a rape or sexual assault without having to report the crime.

The plans would place a new statutory duty on health boards to provide forensic medical services to victims of sexual assault and allow for direct access rather than going through the police.

Health boards have been providing these services since the formation of Police Scotland in 2013, but on the basis of a memorandum of understanding rather than a statutory duty.

By making forensic examination more clearly a part of the healthcare system and allowing victims to access services directly, the intention is to minimise trauma and increase support – while at the same time ensuring forensic evidence will be available if a crime is reported.

Health secretary Jeane Freeman said: “Improving healthcare services for victims of rape and sexual assault is a priority for the Scottish Government and we are committed to ensuring strategic leadership to help deliver that.

“We are clear everyone who needs it should have access to a forensic medical examination, wider healthcare interventions and support, whether or not they have reported the crime.”

Chief medical officer Catherine Calderwood said: “The proposals for legislation will provide greater clarity around the statutory responsibility for delivering forensic medical services and will be informed by those with lived experience.

“The launch of this important consultation builds on the work of the Rape and Sexual Assault Taskforce, which was set up to provide more consistent access to services for victims, and the Equally Safe Strategy for preventing and eradicating violence against women and girls.”

Sandy Brindley, chief executive of Rape Crisis Scotland, added: “This consultation makes it crystal clear that our response needs to be trauma informed and based on what someone needs at that time.

“This should make a real difference to people’s lives.

“Whether to report to the police can sometimes be a difficult decision to make immediately following a rape or sexual assault.

“The proposal in this consultation to enable people to get a forensic examination even when they are unsure about reporting is so important.

“It means that potentially crucial evidence won’t be lost.”

The proposals follow recommendations from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS) as well as work of the Rape and Sexual Assault Taskforce, which is led by the chief medical officer for Scotland.

A consultation on the changes has been launched and will run until 8 May.

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