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MSPs back amendment to replace gender with sex in new law supporting rape victims

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MSPs back amendment to replace gender with sex in new law supporting rape victims

MSPs have voted to back an amendment that will allow the survivors of rape and sexual assaults to choose the sex rather than the gender of the person examining them after an attack.

The change in wording was put forward by Labour MSP Johann Lamont, who warned that the definition of gender “could be ambiguous in the bill, which has the potential to cause distress to individuals undergoing forensic medical examination.”

The Scottish Government initially rejected this argument, but ministers backed the amendment on Thursday.

The change in wording was backed by 113 MSPs.

During the debate, Lamont said: “Sex is defined in law, and gender is not. A right is not a right, if it’s unenforceable. We owe it to survivors to listen and treat them with respect.”

MSPS went on to unanimously pass the Forensic Medical Services Bill, which means victims of sexual offences can request a forensic medical examination without having to report a crime.

The Bill places a duty on health boards to give victims direct access to trauma-informed, person-centred forensic medical examination services and to retain certain evidence where a victim is undecided about reporting to the police.

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said: “Victims of rape, sexual assault and child sexual abuse have suffered a grave violation of their human rights. This law will make it easier for adults to request an examination without reporting a crime, giving them a sense of control over what’s happening to them at a time when it has been taken away.

“We have already laid the groundwork for this. All examinations already take place away from police stations, and the £10 million we are investing includes funding for all health boards to create or enhance Sexual Assault Response Coordination Services with facilities for examinations. We are also committed to developing the role of nurse sexual offence examiners in Scotland.

“I would like to extend my personal thanks to the survivors for their courage in sharing their personal experiences, helping us to develop and pass this legislation and deliver care and support that is compassionate and centred on what they need.”

Rape Crisis Scotland said it was “delighted” the Bill had passed the final stage at Holyrood, but voiced concerns about the lack of female doctors available to carry out examinations.

The charity said: “We share and echo the concerns voiced by multiple MSPs and individuals about the lack of female doctors; we must be clear that the amendment accepted will not change this.

“The right to request a female examiner is all very well, but until there are enough female examiners available across Scotland the ability to access one is a matter of location and chance. This is not good enough; work to prioritise recruitment of female examiners has to be an urgent priority.”

 

During the debate in Holyrood, Health Secretary Jeane Freeman announced £500,000 to improve the NHS response to child sexual abuse and to develop the role of child and family support workers in Scotland.

The Scottish Government is committed to spending a further £1m in the next financial year to support implementation of the Bill, bringing the total funding for this work to £10m over four years.

Interim Chief Medical Officer Dr Gregor Smith said: “The Bill is a huge milestone that the Scottish Government and everyone involved should be proud of. The national Rape and Sexual Assault Taskforce was set up to drive improvements in services across Scotland, and under my leadership that is exactly what this Bill will help to achieve.

“The Taskforce has taken great strides towards ensuring that victims of rape or sexual assault receive a healthcare-focused response. I thank everyone who has contributed to the development of the Bill, in particular to those whose lived experiences have been central to this work.”

 

 

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