At the end of March, the HM Inspectorate of Constabulary Scotland (HMICS) released its strategic overview of the forensic medical services of victims of sexual crime and it could not be more eye opening.
According to the report, “Scotland is well behind the rest of the United Kingdom in respect of availability of dedicated healthcare facilities which meet both the health needs of victims and the necessary forensic requirements” and that “minimum standards of service delivery were accepted in principle by Scottish Ministers in 2013, but not formally issued to NHS Boards”.
It even goes on to say that the only dedicated service, Archway based in Glasgow, is not available for significant periods of time, particularly overnight and at weekends. Lack of and availability of services locally leads to delays and lengthy journeys for victims of sexual crime, who can be asked not to wash for a day or more after an assault.
Upon the release of the report, the Scottish shadow justice secretary Douglas Ross MSP said: “This is a damning report that gives us further insight into the appalling treatment received by victims of sexual assault”.
Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokesperson Liam McArthur MSP commented: “Victims deserve so much better. The services that are supposed to support them shouldn’t compound their distress. SNP ministers, Police Scotland and the NHS need to urgently address these failings so that nothing deters people from coming forward to get assistance and justice.”
The Scottish Government has said an expert group is being established to drive improvements in the provision of health services for sexual assault victims, and new national standards for forensic examinations of victims will be introduced following the report.
I would want to say that I’m relieved to see a reaction from the Scottish Government but it’s clear here that more than a few balls have been dropped. It is unacceptable to expect a survivor of sexual assault to have to jump through so many traumatising hoops.
As a survivor of assault myself, I can say from first-hand experience how much courage and bravery it takes to tell someone you’ve been violated. You sweat buckets, struggle to draw breath, shake like an ancient Nokia as you stumble on every word - trying to figure out a way of saying what you need to without saying the “R” word. Making this journey smoother has been a life goal of mine and one of the reasons I founded Stay Brave UK - an organisation dedicated to improving access to rape and abuse services.
After you’ve overcome this mountain of emotion, you’d hope things would be plain sailing, but it’s nothing less than cruel to then find you have to not even wash for days so police can gather the evidence they need and even needing to make long trips cross-country to a centre or being examined in an uncomfortable room at a police station.
What’s clear is that this problem, highlighted by these inspectors, is unacceptable for a government that has been in power for a decade. The First Minister owes it to the survivors of sexual crimes to rectify this failed system by improving the policies used by police and NHS organisations and commissioning charities at a national and local level to advise and pick up on the shortfall.
This article was written by Alexander Morgan, CEO of Stay Brave UK. Alex is a survivor of abuse and exploitation and campaigns against gender stigma that prevent access to abuse services. You can hear more from Alex by following him on Twitter or reading his articles on Huffington Post.