Northern Ireland Sex-Abuse Victim Scheme Launched

Not enough is being done to help the victims and survivors of sexual violence and abuse in the North, it was admitted today as ministers launched a new five-year victim-focused strategy.

Stormont Health Minister Michael McGimpsey and Policing and Justice Minister Paul Goggins teamed up to set out the new regional scheme.

Mr McGimpsey said: “Sexual violence and abuse is an evil in our society that has a devastating impact on victims and their families.

“While I acknowledge the valuable work already being done by statutory and voluntary sector providers of health, social care and other support services and by criminal justice agencies, it is fair to say that we have not been getting it right for victims and survivors.”

The new strategy is victim-focused, with victims and survivors at its very heart and, because of that, will deliver results, he said.

“What we have established now is a framework which will ensure that there is collaborative responsibility in preventing sexual violence and abuse, and responding effectively when it occurs,” said the minister.

A dedicated sexual assault referral centre for the North is being established at Antrim Hospital to give help to those who have been victims of sexual abuse and violence.

Mr McGimpsey, speaking in Belfast, said more still needed to be done to challenge the myths and misconceptions around sexual violence to educate everyone better, particularly young people, to encourage them to take action and seek help.

“As we continue to make this a high priority for government, we will ensure we continue to encourage victims and survivors not to stay silent, but to speak out and seek help.”

Mr Goggins pledged that protection of the public from violent and sexual offenders remained a top priority of government.

“The criminal justice agencies play a crucial role in minimising the risk posed by those with a history of sexual offending. We will deal robustly with those who commit sexual crimes and support their victims as they seek justice,” said Mr Goggins.

Some of the key objectives of the strategy’s first annual action plan are already being delivered, he said.

The Criminal Justice Order which he recently took through Parliament includes a number of measures which would enable the courts to send dangerous sexual and violent offenders to prison for longer.

“I am determined to ensure that we reduce the unacceptably high rate of attrition in cases involving serious sexual offences.

“Too few crimes are reported; too few perpetrators are brought to justice. The proposed sexual assault referral centre will play a key role in building up the confidence of victims and delivering the forensic evidence that will lead to more convictions,” he said.

The regional strategy provided an excellent basis for coordinating work across the statutory and voluntary sectors to effect real change and deliver a more effective service to victims and survivors, he said.

The strategy sets out a series of measures under four key strategic strands which seek to:

:: Ensure a joined-up, targeted approach by all government departments, agencies and partner organisations – the leadership and direction strand;

:: Reduce risk and prevent sexual violence and abuse – the prevention strand;

:: Build confidence in the criminal justice system, through an appropriate professional and sensitive approach to reported crime – the protection and justice strand;

:: Provide and deliver easily accessible, coordinated, quality support services for victims, survivors and their families – the support strand.