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Saturday, 25 October 2014

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Travel trauma for 200 Cumbrian sex attack victims

A baby and an 87-year-old woman are among more than 200 Cumbrians who have endured a traumatic journey to Preston for forensic examinations after becoming victims of sex crimes.

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Abigail Finnegan: ‘Don’t suffer in silence’

New figures reveal for the first time how rape and sexual assault victims have faced additional stress because the county currently has no specialist forensic examination service.

In the last three years, 215 victims faced a round trip of at least 200 miles so they could been seen at the specialist centre used by Cumbria police.

Some victims were also referred to centres in Manchester and Newcastle.

But the county’s Police and Crime Commissioner Richard Rhodes has confirmed that Cumbria will get its own Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) within a year.

The initiative would end the scandal of victims having to leave the county for forensic examination. It would be the product of months of work by the commissioner, health professionals and experts who work with Cumbrian victims.

The scale of the problem became clear after our sister paper, The Cumberland News, submitted a Freedom of Information request to Cumbria police. The force confirmed that in the last three years 91 Cumbrian children had forensic examinations at the Preston centre and 124 adults.

Last year, 37 children from the county used the service, the highest level of juvenile referrals in the last three years. In the same year, 40 adults were also examined in Preston.

Reacting to the figures, Mr Rhodes said: “They are shocking and they underline the need to get an appropriate facility operating in Cumbria.

“We need to do something about this, and I believe that if we do get the facility we need in Cumbria we will then see an increase in the reporting of these crimes.

“That’s because one of the reasons people don’t report these crimes is that they know they are faced with the prospect of having to go to Preston.

“We’re happy with the quality of the facilities and service in Preston and the other centres – they’re excellent. But that’s not the issue.

“I heard recently about a woman from Brampton who had allegedly been raped and she was then required to go to Preston in the back of a police car with two male officers. That’s something she should not have had to put up with.

“Treating victims properly is fundamental. It’s what being Police and Crime Commissioner should be all about.”

Asked whether Cumbria will have its own dedicated SARC by this time next year, Mr Rhodes said: “I’m convinced that by the end of March next year we will have an appropriate facility.”

He added that the service would aim to meet the wider needs of sex crime victims, including their medical and emotional needs.

The charities involved in shaping the new service have included Safety Net Advice and Support Centre, which works with young people aged between three and 25 and families which have been affected by rape, sexual abuse and domestic violence.

Chief executive Abigail Finnegan said: “The current situation deters people from reporting these crimes.

“We know somebody, who was assaulted last week, refused to make the journey from north Cumbria to Preston because of the distance and so the chances of securing a conviction supported by the right DNA evidence will have been diminished. But we are now going to have a local service geared to meet local needs.

“Victims need these examinations to happen as soon as possible. I and others have been campaigning for a Cumbrian service like this since 2006, and I’m delighted that it is going to happen.”

She added that the medical staff involved in forensic examinations allow victims to remain in control. None have to undergo procedures they are not comfortable with.

Nor must they make immediate decisions about any possible criminal process.

Carol Tindall, from Rape Crisis Cumbria, said: “The figures don’t surprise me.

“What’s appalling about this is going through rape and sexual assault are traumatic enough without having to travel half-way down the country. That just heaps one trauma on top of another.

“Richard Rhodes is right. We need our own SARC in this county. If a person is raped and then has to travel to Preston then that’s another day when they can’t move forward; another day when you have to hold on to those feelings.

“The sooner the process is started then the sooner people can start to heal.”

To contact Safety Net, call 01228 515859 or email them at sncarlisle@btconnect.com. Rape Crisis Cumbria can be contacted on 01900 829729.

Have your say

It's typical of this government. Cut cut cut till there is nothing left.

Posted by mick on 25 May 2014 at 01:21

I was sexually abused when I was 13, I desperately needed help in ways to get past it and be able to interact with people without worry again. I never got that help because my councilor wasnt adept in that area. So I'm still just as damaged, if not more so now, than what I was.

I even heard the other day that there is "no need for crisis centers as it doesnt happen"

We NEED to acknowledge that there is abuse in Cumbria, otherwise nothing is going to change, and there will be a generation of hurt, traumatized and socially dysfunctional people that struggle with every day occurrences.

Posted by anonymous on 8 May 2014 at 16:39

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