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Sexual Abuse Victims (Court Proceedings)

Volume 486: debated on Thursday 15 January 2009

4. What plans she has to make it easier for those who have undergone sexual abuse to give evidence in court proceedings. (247658)

The Coroners and Justice Bill, which was introduced to the House yesterday, will allow into evidence as of right, as it were, records of first interviews with complainants of serious sexual offences. That will avoid their having to go through the whole story again from the start in court. It will also allow in evidence from the first time that they complain of an alleged offence. Historically, complaints have only been allowed in when they have been made quickly after the incident, but now the courts recognise that it often takes time before complainants can bring themselves to complain. We have also increased the number of sexual assault referral centres and the number of independent sexual violence advisers, who, in their different ways, befriend and support rape complainants.

I thank my hon. and learned Friend for that response and congratulate the Government on what they are doing in this field. In Cardiff, we have benefited from the recent opening of a sexual abuse referral centre based in the Cardiff royal infirmary and from an independent sexual violence adviser who helps victims in the courts. What more can be done to help those women, whose experiences are so traumatic, so that when they go to court they feel that they will have a fair hearing and will be able to get justice?

An important aspect of sustaining people who complain—the British crime survey shows that about a third of people who are sexually assaulted never tell anyone about it, except presumably the British crime survey interviewers many years later—is sustaining their confidence to go to court. We can do that with sexual assault referral centres such the one my hon. Friend mentioned, Safe Island in Cardiff, with better trained police who interview in a more appropriate way and with better trained prosecutors. One hopes that from making a complaint to getting to court a complainant will be sustained and supported so she will have the confidence to get through. It seems to us that that is probably the most important factor in ensuring that women—and men—who have suffered sexual assault get justice.