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"Long overdue" sexual assault centre could be open next year

Friday 26 November 2021

"Long overdue" sexual assault centre could be open next year


Political and community campaigners are cautiously welcoming efforts by a States' committee to provide victims of sexual assault with a specialist medical and forensic centre in 2022.

Earlier this year, vigils and protests were held nationally and locally after Sarah Everard was kidnapped, raped and murdered by an off-duty policeman who first faked her arrest while she walked home after a night out in London. In Guernsey, the organisation 'Reclaim These Streets' staged a peaceful protest to raise the profile of sexual assault and violence against women and girls.

Weeks later, two deputies, Yvonne Burford and Sasha Kazantseva-Miller, got a proposal through the States' Assembly to prioritise setting up a sexual assault referral centre.

In July, the States agreed to fund a centre on a pilot basis from 2023. But the Committee for Home Affairs has now announced that it is working to get the centre open sooner.

"It's lovely that there has been an effort to prioritise," said Daisy Chapple, one of the organisers of Reclaim These Streets.

"It's also not concrete. It would be nice to have a date. It would be nice to have something a bit 'for sure', but hopefully that's to come."

Watch: Campaigners speak about sexual assault and violence after a Reclaim These Streets event in Town earlier this year.

“A problem that we have over here is a lack of resource for victims of sexual assault," said Ms Chapple.

"If you are sexually assaulted, the line that a lot of professionals have is that you should go to the hospital and the police, but as we heard at the vigil that doesn’t necessarily cover it.

“I think there’s something missing - something specialized. I think that the sexual assault referral centre will fill this."

Deputy Burford said that a centre is long overdue and joined Ms Chapple in welcoming the announcement by the Committee for Home Affairs that they hoped to set it up next year.

Deputy Yvonne Burford

Pictured: Deputy Yvonne Burford has raised the profile of the case for a sexual assault referral centre and moved it up the political agenda. 

“I’m delighted that Home Affairs is going to press on with the establishment of a centre," said Deputy Burford. 

“I have been calling for this facility to be available for some years. Following my successful amendment in March and the allocation of funding in July, it will hopefully become a reality very soon. 

“This is a much-needed service and will provide a fully independent centre where victims of sexual assault and rape can seek help. I hope that by working with the knowledge and expertise in the third sector the centre can be up and running very soon."

There were more than 100 cases of sexual assault reported last year - on average, one case every three days. In most jurisdictions, reporting rates and conviction rates for sexual assault are notoriously low. It is hoped that a sexual assault referral centre will make it less intimidating for victims to come forward and improve the chances of convicting offenders. 

Deputy Rob Prow

Pictured: Deputy Rob Prow, President of the Committee for Home Affairs. The Committee said it had "started exploring ways that could result in [a sexual assault referral centre] opening sooner" than 2023 "following strong representations from the community about [its] importance". 

Deputy Rob Prow, President of the Committee for Home Affairs, announced his Committee's efforts to expedite the establishment of a centre.

“Violence against women and girls, and any form of inappropriate violence and behaviour, are areas that are extremely important to the Committee," said Deputy Prow.

"We have been looking at what we can do to help strengthen the offering Guernsey has when it comes to both supporting victims and preventing these offences from occurring in the first place. Among our work in this area, we will be looking at how we can get a sexual assault referral centre open as soon as is feasibly possible.”

Deputy Prow has previously said that a sexual assault referral centre “is essential for all people of the Bailiwick".

sexual_assault_referral_centre_.png

Pictured: Earlier this year, Express covered a report which identified a number of weaknesses in how sexual assault is dealt with and reported on deputies' efforts to accelerate the setting up of a sexual assault referral centre at an estimated annual running cost of just under £200,000 a year. 

Deputy Prow said his Committee is also working on other initiatives to tackle violence against women and girls.

“As an example, we are at the very early stages of discussions with colleagues in Education about putting on an annual presentation to young people about violence and intimidation against women, and all of the forms it takes, before they are old enough to go out and enjoy pubs and clubs,” said Deputy Prow.  

Deputy Sue Aldwell, a member of the Committee for Home Affairs, said: "We have also been pleased to give Bailiwick Law Enforcement our full support as officers there have been looking at violence against women and girls as an area in which it can strengthen its services.

"Nationally, tragic incidents in the past year have only shone more of a spotlight on this issue, and it is clear we need to do as much as we can to help women and girls feel comfortable when they are enjoying themselves in the community.

"Everyone deserves to be shown respect, and it is unacceptable that some people don't show that respect to others. Together with our island's law enforcement officers, we are committed to doing what we can to change that."

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