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Court Process: Sexual Assault and Rape Victims

Volume 735: debated on Tuesday 27 June 2023

9. What steps his Department is taking to support victims of sexual assault and rape in the court process. (905639)

In the rape review action plan, we committed to expanding our victim support provision throughout the court process for victims of these dreadful crimes. We are more than quadrupling funding for victim and witness support services from 2009-10 levels, increasing the number of independent sexual violence advisers and independent domestic violence advisers to 1,000. We completed the roll-out of section 28 measures in September 2022, and we continue to deliver our enhanced specialist sexual violence support programme in selected Crown courts.

Can my right hon. Friend confirm what measures are taken for sexual assault and rape victims in remote, rural or coastal communities, where trials may take place a long way from their home?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who is a champion for rural and coastal communities in all aspects. The Government take seriously the experience of victims across the country, no matter where they live. In addition to the measures I have just set out, the Crown Prosecution Service supports victims of crime from remote and rural areas, with victims being able to claim back travel expenses when they need to travel far to attend court. We recognise the challenges of rurality, which is why the MOJ’s sexual violence service design and delivery team has regular engagement with the National Rural Crime Network and is a member of the NRCN’s domestic violence working group.

This week, it has been three years since the harm panel’s report found a serious risk of harm to victims of domestic abuse and their children in the family courts, yet we have seen that nothing has changed. Heartbreakingly, the experiences of victims in the family courts all read the same: the mother criminalised, the children ignored, the father excused. One 10-year-old girl disclosed to the guardian assigned to her case that her father had sexually abused and assaulted her. The guardian dismissed this and, instead, read a book to her, saying that her mother had made it up and her father had done nothing wrong. With no definition of rape or consent in statute in the family courts, when will the Government put a stop to this national scandal?

I am grateful to the shadow Minister for her question. She will be aware that Lord Bellamy, whose portfolio covers the family courts, is looking at this issue carefully. Although it is not in my portfolio, I understand that two of the three limbs of the report she mentioned have already been implemented, and we anticipate implementing the final element later this year.