Victims of sexual offences can request a forensic medical examination without having to report a crime under a landmark law passed by the Scottish Parliament.
The Forensic Medical Services (Scotland) Bill, which passed unanimously, 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.
During the debate, Health Secretary Jeane Freeman MSP 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 £1 million in the next financial year to support implementation of the Bill, bringing the total funding for this work to £10 million over four years.
Ms 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.”
Kenneth Gibson MSP commented:
“I was delighted to vote in favour of this Bill and thank the Health Secretary for listening regarding concerns that had been voiced by many in regard of trauma-informed care.
“It is important that those who are traumatised by sexual assault feel that the law safeguards their wish to be treated by female medical examiners as robustly as possible, and I am pleased this is now the case.”
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.”
The Forensic Medical Services (Victims of Sexual Offences) (Scotland) Bill was introduced to the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday 26 November 2019.
The Bill ensures that victims are informed about what will happen to any evidence taken from them and the circumstances under which it will be shared with the police. In self-referral cases where no police report is made, victims can request the destruction of evidence and the return of certain items such as clothing.
The Bill underpins the work of the Chief Medical Officer’s Rape and Sexual Assault Taskforce to provide consistent, person-centred, trauma-informed healthcare and forensic medical services for anyone who has experienced rape or sexual assault in Scotland. Last month the Taskforce published Scotland’s first national clinical pathway for adults – alongside one for children and young people – who seek help after rape, sexual assault or child sexual abuse.
The additional £1 million funding commitment for 2021/22 is subject to Parliamentary approval of next year’s budget.
A new Postgraduate Qualification course for nurse sexual offence examiners at Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh begins next month. This is the first qualification of its kind in Scotland and could help pave the way for nurses undertaking the role of sexual offence examiner in future.