‘One-stop shop’ for victims of rape is hit by delays

Police and Crime Commissioner for West Yorkshire Mark Burns-Williamson.
Police and Crime Commissioner for West Yorkshire Mark Burns-Williamson.
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THE long-awaited introduction of a key support centre for rape victims in the police force area with Yorkshire’s highest incidence of reported sexual assaults will not take place until April after being hit by further delays.

The Yorkshire Post revealed in March that West Yorkshire had not opened a dedicated Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) in the county four years after a landmark report identified the facility as a vital tool in tackling the crime.

An ‘interim’ forensic medical examination centre run by West Yorkshire Police and outsourcing firm Serco since December 2012 lacks the support services offered by the ‘one-stop shop’ SARC sites in virtually every other police force area in the country.

Bosses have been trying to bring in a permanent arrangement with services all under one roof, but a document seen by The Yorkshire Post says “the procurement process has not progressed as quickly as anticipated”.

A new provider has been promised when the NHS takes over as lead commissioner on April 1, but in the meantime Serco will be paid £77,000 to extend its contract for a further two months.

The current contract provided by Serco, funded 50/50 by West Yorkshire Police and NHS England, is worth £384,000 over ten months. It had been due to end on January 31 on the basis that a permanent service would be introduced on February 1.

A tender process was started last year to create a dedicated SARC service but was abandoned in favour of a single provider for all four Yorkshire police forces.

The police document says: “The procurement process has not progressed as quickly as anticipated; a secondary issue is that forces have sought to harmonise the completion dates of their current SARC service contracts. The procurement process will be completed in time for a new provider to deliver SARC services from 1st April 2015.”

It means there will be separate bases providing support for victims in North Yorkshire, South Yorkshire, West Yorkshire and the Humberside police force area, all provided by the same firm.

West Yorkshire’s police commissioner Mark Burns-Williamson said: “The current situation is that there is a professional support network in place to support victims of rape and other serious sexual offences across [West Yorkshire] and detailed work is being done to identify and ensure a consistency of service provision going forward.

“This means the services that a SARC facility would contain under one roof are currently in different places, yet working closely together to ensure victims get the best possible care.

“Through the new approach being taken, I am actively involved in ensuring we get a better and more integrated solution for the future working with the NHS and other partners.”

SARCs are lauded for offering a safe haven for victims who can report what has happened without having to go directly to the police .

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”.

Recorded adult and child rapes increased by more than 30 per cent last year in the county.

Chris Jewesbury, Head of Health and Justice Commissioning in NHS England Yorkshire and the Humber, said: “We are in the process of jointly procuring the Sexual Assault Referral Centre Services with West Yorkshire, North Yorkshire, South Yorkshire and Humberside Police Forces. We can confirm the contract is currently in the tendering process and therefore we are unable to comment at this current time.

“We are looking to have one provider for the whole of Yorkshire and Humberside with separate centres for each of the four forces. This service should be in place by April 2015 which will comply with national policy and expectations.”

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