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Sexual Assault Referral Centres

Volume 465: debated on Thursday 25 October 2007

There are now 18 sexual assault referral centres, with 18 more in development. They are usually joint projects between the police, the health services and the voluntary sector. They provide important early support and counselling for victims so that they are better able to be sustained to go through with any criminal prosecution and to give their best evidence in court.

I thank my hon. and learned Friend for that reply, and I am sure that she will be pleased to hear that building conversion work for the Cardiff centre will start next week. Is she aware that, since January, the women’s safety unit in Cardiff has had 71 referrals of sexual assault, mainly rape? The unit has been able to offer help and support and to undertake the early evidence work, such as taking DNA samples. On the whole, the women involved do not want to go forward to prosecution, but that early work is done in case they change their minds. What more can the Government do to support that important work?

My hon. Friend’s city has a fine record of battling with issues of violence against women, and she has a fine record of championing these matters.

It is a great pleasure to hear that Cardiff’s sexual assault referral centre will come on-stream soon. We must spread the best practice across every area, and ensure that there is good quality practice in the SARCs. However, in due course—and probably early next month—we will publish our response to the previous Solicitor-General’s consultation document on what more we can do to improve the quality of justice for rape victims. We have made advances in domestic violence through training relevant agencies, and we consider that it may be desirable for juries to receive information about the psychological reactions of rape victims. We want to help dispel myths about rape, and we consider that that might be achieved through a neutral document or judge’s statement. We will publish our response formally in a month or so, and that ought to be a considerable step towards ensuring better justice for the sort of women supported by SARCs across the country.