Long-held plans for a dedicated on-island service for people who have suffered sexual assault are finally moving forward, with work on a bespoke new facility due to start soon.
The service is being phased in over the next 12 months, with full service provision due to be in place by February 2022. Before that time, it may be necessary for some cases to travel off island for specialist care.
The island’s first Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) will transform the care, treatment and support offered to adults and children who have experienced a sexual assault or rape, and improve evidence-gathering capabilities for the police.
This comes after Tanya August-Hanson MLC raised the matter in Tynwald in January when she told members of an 18-month-old child being made to travel to the UK for a forensic examination following an alleged assault, a week after it was first reported.
Ms August-Hanson said: ‘Following an alleged assault that took place in October last year: reported immediately to the police and social services, it took a week to organise their travelling across to the UK with police and a welfare officer. It is nonsensical that it took a full week before a mother and child were flown for forensic testing during a pandemic. In all of that time, all of that evidence could have been lost, resulting in inconclusive examination results, which is exactly what happened, so these types of things which have not been dealt with thus far, have made a situation that perhaps would’ve been very difficult and hard, 10 times harder for victims and their families.
Existing provision will be expanded and a range of services brought together under one roof to offer wrap-around care for users, from reporting an incident through examination to criminal proceedings and ongoing counselling support. The service will be available for those in need of support irrespective of whether criminal proceedings are initiated.
Once fully operational the facility will be equipped to respond 24/7 avoiding in most cases the need for victims to travel to the UK for assessment.
The SARC is a joint initiative by the DHSC, the Department of Home Affairs and Public Health. It has progressed over several years, beginning with a ‘deep dive’ needs assessment in 2017 through service design and the first phase of commissioning.
The service will be based at a centre in Douglas, and work to convert the building to accommodate a bespoke, modern facility which meets recognised UK clinical and forensic standards will begin at Easter. The refurbishment will create appropriate spaces for immediate assistance and support, forensic examinations and rooms for counselling and supported police witness interviews.
The work is expected to take around eight weeks with the new, dedicated facility due to open by August 2021. The programme team are developing changes to the current service model, which will in the longer-term see an integrated range of redesigned services become operational, at which point the majority of examinations, along with all medical interventions (excluding acute or emergency care), counselling and support will be available on Island.
Minister Graham Cregeen said: ‘I am delighted to confirm that work will soon begin to transform this site. Since we began to map the service and requirements in 2017 it has become increasingly clear that this is a facility the Island needs, to protect and support those who have suffered a sexual assault and ensure we are doing our best for Island residents.’
The SARC forms part of a wider piece of work which in the long term aims to encompass a programme of education to address the underlying causes of sexual crime, reduce its prevalence in society and protect individuals from harm.