Force with highest reports of rape still without vital support centre

Mark Burns-Williamson, Police and Crime Commissioner for West Yorkshire
Mark Burns-Williamson, Police and Crime Commissioner for West Yorkshire
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THE Yorkshire police force area with the highest incidence of reported rape has failed to open a key support centre for victims four years after a landmark report identified the facility as a vital tool in tackling the crime.

Sexual Assault Referral Centres (SARCs) have opened in virtually every force area in the country but authorities in West Yorkshire have been unable to deliver the same level of support despite official efforts – including a tendering process – beginning as far back as 2011.

SARCs provide a specialist ‘one-stop shop’ for victims, including a wide range of support services as well as forensic examination facilities. They have been lauded for offering a safe haven for victims who are able to report what has happened without having to go directly to the police – a step which can initially be too daunting. At the same time, SARCs can gather vital information, including forensic material, which allows victims to report later to the police if they choose.

Baroness Stern, whose 2010 report on rape is considered the benchmark for how authorities should respond to the offence, described West Yorkshire’s failure to secure a SARC as a “huge pity” and added that “West Yorkshire is really way behind if they haven’t got one”.

The Stern Report had specifically welcomed the Government’s commitment to have a SARC in every force area by 2011 and recommended larger forces should consider more than one.

It is unclear why West Yorkshire – where recorded adult and child rapes increased by more than 30 per cent last year – is lagging behind. Kirklees Primary Care Trust began a tendering process for a SARC to cover the whole of West Yorkshire in 2011. Asked what had happened, NHS England initially told The Yorkshire Post that West Yorkshire did have a SARC and that it was being managed by West Yorkshire Police and private company Serco.

This is incorrect and the facility referred to by NHS England is a forensic examination centre only, used by the police. No explanation was offered for what had happened with the 2011 tender.

The West Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner, Mark Burns-Williamson, issued a separate tender for a SARC in June last year but that too now appears to have been abandoned.

Mr Burns-Williamson said: “A tender went out last year for a SARC in West Yorkshire, however, during the process, it became apparent that there could be a number of benefits to taking a regional approach to the procurement of SARC services across West Yorkshire, North Yorkshire, South Yorkshire and Humberside and so a contract was not awarded for West Yorkshire alone.

“The intention would be to appoint a single service provider but with a dedicated SARC facility in each force area and we are working in partnership with NHS England as the commissioning responsibility transfers to them from April 1 next year.

“A final decision will be made on that in the coming weeks, with a view to a tendering process taking place over the course of the summer.. While it is correct that West Yorkshire does not currently have a Sexual Assault Referral Centre, we have a professional support network to support victims of rape and other serious sexual offences across the county.”

The charity Rape Crisis offers support to victims of sexual violence. Call 0808 802 9999.

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