Funding cuts may hit police investigations

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A PEER who led a landmark review into how rape is investigated has warned financial pressures threaten the significant steps forward the police have made in responding to one of the most traumatic and challenging of crimes.

Baroness Stern said there had been “definite progress” in some ways since she produced her Government-commissioned independent report in 2010 which included a series of recommendations which were virtually all accepted by ministers.

She highlighted improvements in victim support, which are known to increase the likelihood of both reporting rape and victims seeing through what can be a harrowing and lengthy prosecution process, but expressed concern that cuts in public sector funding might set back improvements in policing.

“I would say that in some ways there is definite progress,” said Baroness Stern. “The rolling out of Sexual Assault Referral Centres (SARCs) and the whole input of the health service is a great step forward. The government keeping faith and giving money to victim services and Independent Sexual Violence Advisors (ISVAs) is also very encouraging.”

But she feared pressure on police budgets could impact on rape investigations which often require significant resources.

“I think the police went through a phase of great improvement and have really taken it seriously and I fear the financial pressures on them means it’s not so easy to do. They are struggling to deal with a quite difficult environment now.

“The issue does need continual discussion and pressure to make sure we don’t slip back as we could easily do.”

Baroness Stern also described national funding of ISVAs, which is currently only due to run until 2015, as “fragile” even though they have been recognised as providing vital, personal support to victims by helping them access help and guiding them through any potential prosecution process.

The Home Office currently helps funds 87 ISVAs. The peer said she would support any moves to make provision of ISVAs a statutory requirement.

“They are a wondeful model of provision which people around the world come and look at. The duty should be put on someone to provide them - whether that’s the health service, police, local authority or police and crime commissioner. Someone should have a duty to ensure there is an adequate service.”