Need for police borders to change
A new Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) due to open in Nuneaton will not be available to victims in Coventry.
The new Blue Sky Centre, opening at Nuneaton’s George Eliot Hospital next year, has been long anticipated and will provide 24-hour access for victims of sexual assault and rape.
Victims will be offered medical care, counselling, emergency contraception and forensic care should they wish to report the incident to police.
However, the Coventry Telegraph revealed last week that if Coventry residents report sexual assault or rape to the West Midlands police, who serve the Coventry area, they will not be taken to this new, state-of-the-art facility about 12 miles away.
Police boundaries mean that the new centre falls within the juristiction of the Warwickshire Police service, not the West Midlands Police regional area.
This means that anyone who reports to the police in Coventry will be taken to the nearest SARC in the West Midland Police area, which is in Walsall - some 30-plus miles away.
Not only is the Walsall centre less well equipped than the Nuneaton-based centre, it is also over an hour’s drive away – and time is crucial in gathering vital evidence after an assault or rape that could lead to a conviction.
This revelation has caused outrage in Coventry, not least because Coventry City Council contributed £150,000 towards the building of the new centre.
Reamarking on this, Conservative councillor Kevin Foster said: “It’s unbelievable. We had assumed once this was open, driving rape victims to Walsall would be a thing of the past. We wouldn’t have approved £150,000 for something Coventry people couldn’t use.”
And the manager of Coventry Rape and Sexual Assault Centre (CRASAC), Di Whitfield, said: “It’s a ludicrous situation. Why would we do this to victims? Why wouldn’t we send victims to the nearest possible FME that reduces the time when they are already traumatised.
“We have a specialist centre that is ten minutes away but we are sending vulnerable victims for an hour-and-half all the way to Walsall.”
West Midlands Police have responded, defending the decision. They claim that the two current SARCs at Walsall and Castle Vale will be updated, and plans for a third centre are underway.
But they face increasing pressure to revert on this present decision.
MP for Coventry North, Bob Ainsworth added his voice to the debate last week, saying: “This issue of having to take rape victims to Walsall is something we’ve been trying to fix for some time.
“This is a ludicrous situation. Bureaucratic convenience cannot be allowed to stand in the way of what is best for vulnerable people subjected to a sex crime.”
He said that the people of Coventry and Warwickshire should come together to ensure that Coventry citizens would have access to the new centre, adding: “I’ve never known a situation where the bureaucratic boundaries have had such grave consequences for such a vulnerable group. It’s ridiculous. This is as bad as it gets.
“If we can’t get our heads together and sort this out then there’s little hope for us. We really must get together to make sure this doesn’t happen.”
Coventry has one of the highest rates of sexual violence in the country.
A report published last year recorded a rate of around 71.3 per 100,000 population.
This is high compared with the overall West Midlands rate, which stood at 47.4 per 100,000 population, and the national rate of 42.5 per 100,000.
But even these figures do not give a true picture of the problem, as many victims do not report incidences of sexual assualt and rape.
Recent research by Warwickshire Police indicated three main reasons that victims of these crimes do not come forward: lack of awareness of services, lack of easy access to services and fear that they won’t get a high quality response from local services.
The decision over the new Nuneaton SARC would seem to substantiate these concerns. Victims who self-refer to the centre can be treated there, but, as this research shows, many victims are not aware of these services, and so it would be unlikely or rarely that this would be the case.
The issue is likely to be a key talking point in the lead up to the elections for a West Midlands Police Crime Comissioner (PCC) in November. Indeed several of the candidates have already made clear where they stand.
Matt Bennett, the Conservative candidate for the West Midlands role promised: “I will put this right if elected.”
And amid all the headlines and outrage we must not forget that at the centre of the issue are victims of horrifying crimes. Anybody who finds themselves in the position where they need to visit a SARC has already been subjected to something truly terrible.
It is paramount that when victims have the courage to come forward and report such crimes they are cared for and helped in the best way possible.
If you are the victim of sexual assault or rape and need someone to talk to you can phone CRASAC‘s confidential helpline on 02476 277777 from 10am – 2pm Monday to Friday, 6pm – 8pm Monday and Thursday. There is a 24-hour answerphone at all other times.
You can also email firstname.lastname@example.org. Emails are checked twice each weekday - if you require an immediate responce we recommend you telephone us.