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Sexual Violence Overseas: Treatment of Victims

Volume 801: debated on Thursday 9 January 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the treatment of British victims of alleged sexual violence in foreign countries, following the recent case in Cyprus.

My Lords, we take any report of rape or sexual assault seriously. Our staff explain local policing and legal procedures. We can attend the police station with and support victims and ensure that they can access medical care. We also work with specialist support organisations, such as our funded partners, and fund bespoke projects to improve the treatment of victims by authorities in other countries.

I thank the Minister for his reply. The media reports of this young British woman convicted in Cyprus have caused alarm in many circles. What are Her Majesty’s Government doing to ensure that this does not deter victims in this country from coming forward to the police when they need to report something? Secondly, and more specifically on the case of the Cyprus woman, we were in touch with her lawyers yesterday. They are positive about the support given by Her Majesty’s Government but there is the question of what support she will now be given for her appeal to clear her name. What can Her Majesty’s Government do to help her with that?

My Lords, on the second question asked by the right reverend Prelate, obviously I cannot go into specific details because it is ongoing. He raised the important issue of ensuring that, because of the experience we have seen from this case, no victim of sexual violence—be it at home or abroad—feels that there is a barrier or, indeed, feels reluctant to come forward. It is clear that if someone is sexually assaulted or raped, they should come forward. Abroad, we will offer full support, as we have done in this case; here in the United Kingdom, I know that my colleagues at the Home Office will take the issue very seriously. If you have been assaulted, come forward and report it.

My Lords, as a criminal lawyer, I have some concerns about some aspects of this case. Can the Government tell us what advice can be given on expediting the appeal?

Obviously, the noble and learned Lord speaks from experience. I have already alluded to, and I am sure he will respect, the fact that I cannot go into specific detail. I can say that the FCO provides full consular support to any individual who has gone through such an experience. This case was no exception; indeed, we offered full consular support to the individual and her family in both the United Kingdom and Cyprus.

My Lords, can my noble friend go any further in explaining: what specific support was given to this particular victim and her family; whether, as in other cases, any support was given to the police in investigating this matter; and whether, as well as supporting the appeal process, the Government will make any representation to the Cypriot authorities as to whether it is possible to reopen the original investigation and allegation of rape?

My noble friend asks some important questions. Of course, first and foremost, we welcome the return of the victim. As I said, there is a limit to the detail I can go into but, as the victim’s family has acknowledged, the FCO provided strong support in Cyprus. We are also considering what more we can do with the authorities in Cyprus and in other countries to ensure what we have here, which is a victim-centred approach to the criminal justice process. I know that my noble friend has raised concerns, particularly about some of the processes that the victim was involved in in Cyprus; they are a matter of concern for all of us.

My Lords, the Minister said in his opening response to the right reverend Prelate that the high commissioner there could, and did, offer support during the investigation. However, reports I have read and reports from my contacts in Cyprus indicate that the young woman—the teenager—involved was questioned by the police for some nine hours with no legal representation. What support did the high commission provide and what representation did it make to address what appears to be a grotesque miscarriage of justice? What advice is being given to young people travelling to places such as Ayia Napa on how they can best safeguard themselves and what they can do if they are victims of sexual violence?

The noble Baroness has raised valid concerns which are being looked at directly, but I cannot go into further detail about the process as it is still ongoing. I assure her that while the particular lady concerned was in Cyprus, full support was offered to her family here in the UK as well as directly to her in Cyprus. The issues around the case are obviously of deep concern. On the noble Baroness’s wider question, we recognise how vulnerable those who have been sexually assaulted in a foreign country can be and therefore we provide support tailored to the individual circumstances of each case. As I said earlier, our approach is victim-led and is based on the person’s needs. For example, we provide information on what professional help is available locally and in the UK, and we are providing funding for a rape crisis organisation to ensure that it can act as a means of support wherever victims are in the world.

My Lords, will the Government think about what happens after a court case? My experience over recent years of several organisations working with young women who have been subjected to sexual exploitation, grooming and so on in this country is that once the court case is over, the availability of resources to support those then very damaged young women is missing because the state feels that its responsibilities are finished. Will the Minister have a look at this issue because clearly this young woman and lots of other young women, having suffered what they suffered, will need support for years to come?

I agree with the noble Baroness that anyone who has been through any kind of assault or sexual violence needs support. In this case, allegations of rape were raised quite directly. Sexual assault is serious and is not something that ends for the victim once the court case has been resolved. I will certainly take back the helpful remarks made by the noble Baroness. For her information and indeed for the House in general, we also look at how we can improve processes on the ground, so we are now funding specific projects in different countries to train local authorities on issues around language and cultural sensitivities and to train the police in the collection of evidence.