This Government is determined to ensure that a tough approach is taken to those who commit sexual crimes as well as helping to ensure access to appropriate and sensitive help and support for the victims of such crimes.
In March 2015, the First Minister announced an additional £20 million of funding over three years to help to tackle all forms of violence against women and girls, including putting in place better support for victims. From this budget, we awarded an additional £1.85 million to Rape Crisis Scotland to enhance existing specialist support services offered to victims of sexual offences and to establish two new services in Orkney and Shetland. Later this year, new statutory jury directions will be introduced to assist our courts in considering rape and other sexual offence cases.
We have also dedicated resources to NHS Scotland to accelerate the pace of work in implementing minimum standards for forensic examinations for victims of sexual crimes. We are aware of the challenges in implementing the standards uniformly across Scotland and understand the particular difficulties that rural and island locations have experienced in developing and maintaining the expertise required to deliver the services to victims. This is an area that we are committed to improving, and we will continue to support actions to bring to justice the perpetrators of sexual offences and to improve the support available to victims.
Although I do not doubt the Scottish Government’s commitment to supporting victims of rape, research last year from Glasgow Caledonian University showed the weaknesses in some police responses and “A Woman’s Story” from Edinburgh Rape Crisis Centre has shown that much more needs to be done.
The cabinet secretary alluded to yesterday’s report that rape victims in Orkney and Shetland face arduous journeys to Aberdeen for forensic examinations as there are no facilities on the islands. When I raised the issue of medical examinations last year, the First Minister responded by saying that
“Victims should be offered an examination by someone of ... their choice at an appropriate location”—[
, 2 June 2016; c 17.]
but yesterday’s report highlighted that that is still not taking place. What support will the Scottish Government provide for Shetland and Orkney to urgently address the lack of provision, and when can we expect rape victims across Scotland to be offered the choice of a female doctor in forensic examinations?
The member has raised a number of important points about how we provide appropriate and sensitive support to victims of crimes such as rape. In that respect, we have taken forward a range of actions, including the right to choose the gender of the person who conducts the medical examination, as part of the provisions in the Victims and Witnesses (Scotland) Act 2014 that we took through the Parliament.
There have been challenges in implementing in the national health service the minimum standards for forensic medical examinations for women who have been subject to sexual violence. Those challenges have been driven by a number of factors, and one of the principal factors that are posing real difficulty is the number of clinicians who have the necessary training and expertise to conduct these examinations. As the member will appreciate, there are very strict legal criteria for the way in which these examinations are undertaken, and there have been challenges in recruiting additional clinicians to undertake NHS Education for Scotland’s training programme for medical examiners. We are now undertaking further work, part of which will be taken forward by NES within the NHS in a survey of female doctors who might be interested in undertaking this form of examination. That work will be taken forward over the coming weeks with a view to recruiting more clinicians to conduct these examinations.
The other challenge, particularly for our island communities and some of our rural communities, is the limited number of incidents in which sexual violence might take place. The issue is ensuring that the staff who have received this training have the skills required to conduct these examinations on a regular basis, and as I have said, that has proven to be a challenge in some of our rural and island communities.
To ensure that we get greater consistency of approach in the application of the minimum standards, I have provided additional resource to NHS National Services Scotland for a dedicated co-ordinator’s post over the next two years. That person will be responsible for looking at the actions that all boards have taken to meet these standards, to identify gaps and to set out what action needs to be taken to address them.
I appreciate the challenges that the cabinet secretary has outlined, but some timescales or targets for the resolution of the problems would be appreciated by victims.
Last week, we had the conclusion of the civil rape case that was brought by Denise Clair. Given the outcome and the evidence that was presented, many people will ask why the case was not taken forward as a criminal matter. The fact that only 12 per cent of reported rapes and attempted rapes make it to court means that victims are often left without justice. It is recognised that rape is a complex crime to prosecute, but Parliament passed the Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2009, which explicitly states that agreement cannot be given freely if the person is under the influence of alcohol. An increasing number of calls have been made for the Crown Office to revisit its original decision and for an inquiry to be held into why the case never proceeded to trial.
Will the Scottish Government support the undertaking of an appropriate inquiry into the Crown Office’s decision not to prosecute? Will it review the application of the 2009 act so that victims of rape can be confident that they will receive the utmost care—and, ultimately, justice—from the point of reporting this heinous crime to the verdict?
The member made two specific points. As regards the timeframe for the work that is being done to support health boards such as NHS Shetland and NHS Orkney that are experiencing challenges, some of that work is being progressed at the moment. The co-ordinator for working with health boards is already in post and the survey is about to commence; it is going through a pilot process, after which it will be sent out to all health board areas, as well as the different clinical groups that could participate in supporting this area of work.
As part of the domestic abuse and sexual violence strategy, work is also being done with NHS Shetland and the local police, in partnership with Rape Crisis Shetland, to look at what measures can be taken at local level to provide a better response to women who have been subjected to sexual violence.
Some of the work that Claire Baker asked about is being done, but I accept that the standard of service that is presently provided is not uniformly of the level that I and every other member would expect for women who have experienced such crimes. We are determined to do everything that we can to get greater consistency across the country, notwithstanding the challenges that are faced in our rural and island communities.
With regard to the civil case that was considered last week, as the member will recognise, prosecution of such matters is an issue for our independent prosecution services and it would not be appropriate for ministers to engage in those issues. However, the member will also recognise that the criminal proceedings statistics that were published last week demonstrated an increase in the number of sexual offence convictions that have been secured. There has been a consistent increase in the reporting of such crimes.
The member will also recognise that the burden of proof in a criminal case is markedly different from the burden of proof in a civil case. Anything to do with the decision on whether to prosecute a case is a matter for our independent Lord Advocate and the Crown Office.
The minister might like to know that four members wanted to ask supplementaries. I am afraid that there is no time today, as we have two statements and a debate to come, and there is no time in hand. The members who unsuccessfully requested a supplementary might want to press their request-to-speak buttons on other occasions later in the week, and I will bear that in mind.