Victims of rape and sexual assault will be able to refer themselves for forensic examination without having to report a crime to police, under a Scottish Government Bill just introduced at Holyrood.
The Forensic Medical Services (Victims of Sexual Offences) Scotland Bill would require health boards to provide direct access to forensic medical services for victims who self-refer, and establish clear rights for victims to know what will happen with evidence taken from them.
This evidence may support any future criminal justice process, if a victim does not wish to report the incident they have suffered to the police or is undecided about doing so.
At the same time, ministers have announced funding for an initiative to develop the role of nurse sexual offence examiners in Scotland, through a postgraduate course being developed at Queen Margaret University. Health boards are also being supported to develop a multi-disciplinary workforce to enable appropriately qualified and experienced nurses to undertake forensic medical examinations of victims of sexual crime and give evidence in court – something only doctors can do currently.
The Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service has been closely involved in the proposals. Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC said: "I welcome the initiative to develop the nurse sexual offence examiner role, which could enhance the service available to complainers. It will allow us to monitor and evaluate the scheme and seek to establish the role’s viability within the criminal justice system."
Health Secretary Jeane Freeman commented: "Improving access to healthcare services for victims of rape and sexual assaults is central to our determination to provide sensitive support to those who need it.
"By ensuring the choice to self-refer is available consistently across Scotland, we hope that people who might currently be reluctant to make a police report are encouraged to access appropriate NHS services and get the support they need at a time of significant trauma."
Sandy Brindley, chief executive of Rape Crisis Scotland, added: "We welcome this significant and important step forward and believe that when law, this has the potential to transform how forensic services are provided to survivors of sexual violence across Scotland.
"Sexual crimes are fundamentally abuses of power and about taking someone’s control – which is why it is so important and encouraging that this bill recognises and works to counter this by making sure that survivors are in control of procedures and processes around their evidence and property.
"Adopting a trauma-informed approach that focusses on the individual, on their needs and their health care is vital, and an important element of this is moving to using nurses as forensic examiners. This is a key development, and one which could make a huge difference."