A review by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland (HMICS) into how adult and child victims of sexual crime access forensic medical services has identified significant variations in availability and quality around Scotland, with services offered to some victims being described as ‘unacceptable’.
The report welcomes the announcement of nationwide standards by the Cabinet Secretary for Justice in February 2017 alongside greater clarity around the statutory responsibilities for delivering these services. These will be critical to improving how victims of sexual crime obtain the medical attention they need while ensuring forensic evidence is also gathered for criminal justice processes.
Evidence for the review was gathered over a six month period and identified a number of issues affecting the quality of service delivered to victims of sexual crime in Scotland.
Gill Imery, Assistant Inspector of Constabulary at HMICS, who led the review, said:
"Sexual crimes have a devastating effect on victims and so it is imperative that the support they receive, both from health and criminal justice professionals is high quality and consistent irrespective of where they live.
"The priority of forensic medical examinations should always be to address the immediate health needs and future recovery of the victim, with the gathering of evidence towards potential criminal justice proceedings being an important but not the sole consideration.
"There are many dedicated and committed professionals working across Scotland who are providing quality service to victims, but there is much more to be done if we are to deliver a consistent service which minimises the distress and discomfort to victims who have experienced a sexual crime."
The report highlighted that the current Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Police Scotland and NHS Scotland for the provision of healthcare and forensic medical services should be reviewed urgently.
There is also a need to provide greater clarity around the statutory responsibility for delivering these services.
The review identified ten key recommendations including the need to address the lack of availability of specialist services offered to victims of sexual crime in Glasgow. Although offering a good service to victims, HMICS found that the Archway service in Glasgow was not available for significant periods of time particularly overnight and at weekends, resulting in a ’two-tier’ service being delivered to victims of sexual crime with the alternative service delivered in a police station being described as ‘inadequate’.
The review found that Scotland was well behind the rest of the UK in respect of the availability of dedicated healthcare facilities which meet both the health care needs of victims and the necessary forensic requirements.
The is an urgent need for Police Scotland to work with NHS Boards to identify appropriate healthcare facilities for the forensic medical examination of victims of sexual crime, phasing out of police premises as soon as is practical.
The report also recognises the need to improve forensic cleaning standards in those police custody settings where suspected perpetrators of sexual abuse are examined.
The report also noted that suspects who were under 16 were being forensically examined and within police custody facilities and recommends that Police Scotland works with NHS Scotland to move these examinations into a more appropriate health care setting.
Assistant Inspector of Constabulary Imery said:
"In order to address the current disparity in forensic healthcare services across Scotland, it is clear that further investment will be required to fund appropriate healthcare professionals, including forensic nurses and the premises and equipment used for forensic medical examinations.
"In cases where victims of sexual crime seek support but are unsure whether they wish to report a crime to the police, they must have the option of a forensic medical examination to capture forensic evidence should they subsequently decide to make a report. It is imperative there is clarity around the process of securing and retaining forensic evidence to allow for investigation at a later stage if the victim subsequently chooses to disclose details of the crime."
"There are a number of examples of how forensic medical services are provided in other countries, with a victim-centred approach, which would be useful for Scottish Government, Police Scotland, the Scottish Police Authority, NHS Boards and other key stakeholders including those that represent victims to consider.
"At present challenges in staffing of services and access to resources, particularly in remote and rural areas where victims may be required to travel some distance to access services, varies greatly and this is to the detriment of victims of sexual crime.
"Our recommendations have been designed to offer suggestions on how to improve the provision of services currently provided to victims of sexual crime so that they can be assured they will receive the best support from the range of agencies and professionals that they may need to engage with, irrespective of where they live in Scotland."