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Sexual Offences: Northern Ireland

Volume 464: debated on Monday 8 October 2007

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland pursuant to the answers of 25 June 2007, Official Report, columns 20-2W, on sexual offences and 10 July 2007, Official Report, columns 1398-9W, on Northern Ireland: convictions, what assessment he has made of the reasons for the conviction rate for rape being lower than for all offences; what meetings he has had with (a) the Police Service of Northern Ireland, (b) the Public Prosecution Service and (c) women's support or rape crisis groups to discuss ways of increasing the conviction rate; and what plans he has to increase the conviction rate for rape. (152818)

We remain committed to reviewing the effectiveness of case handling and improving support services to victims and survivors of sexual violence to help them cope with the traumatic impact of the offence and assist them in giving their best evidence in court.

PSNI, with assistance from the Public Prosecution Service, has recently reviewed the management of a range of rape cases in order to find ways of improving the investigation of such cases. Preliminary findings are being analysed.

A regional strategy for sexual violence, which was the subject of extensive consultation and workshops involving statutory and voluntary sector agencies, victims' groups and the general public, is due to be published by the end of the year by the NIO and DHSSPS. It will specifically examine factors which contribute to the attrition rate in relation to sexual offences and identify ways to address under reporting of offences, further improve inter-agency case management and develop services which meet the needs of victims of sexual violence.

One of the strategy's key measures already announced ahead of formal publication is the development, by a multi-agency steering group involving victims' group Nexus, of Northern Ireland's first sexual assault referral centre. The SARC will build on the valuable services currently available in police child abuse and rape inquiry suites to deliver a more coordinated response to the needs of victims by providing immediate medical aftercare and individual counselling and other support services while also facilitating the preservation of forensic evidence to assist in the successful prosecution of offenders.