Supporting victims of serious sexual offences
I have spoken at length recently about the rise in serious sexual offences reported in Essex and the urgent need to understand the problems in order to combat them.In discussing these issues I realise that may have led to people asking about the role a Police and Crime Commissioner can play in a situation such as this.
My role is two-fold. Firstly it is my job as Police & Crime Commissioner to both support and challenge Essex Police on issues such as this. That support involves ensuring Essex Police works effectively with partners to safeguard and support victims of sexual crime and ensuring the Chief Constable has all he needs to tackle these offences.
The challenge comes in ensuring that the force does its best to reduce these offences, bring perpetrators to justice, understand why they are occurring, support victims and continue to create an environment where victims feel they can come forward to report these crimes.
In practical terms, since April 1 this year my office has taken responsibility for locally commissioning support services for victims that were previously commissioned nationally by the Ministry of Justice. This change means that I can direct money to support victims in Essex where it is most needed. This support of course includes services for victims of sexual violence and abuse.
So far this year my office has given £441,500 to the three rape crisis centres in Essex which provide vital support for victims of sexual offences across the county.
These centres are the South Essex Rape and Incest Crisis Centre (SERICC), the Southend on Sea Rape Crisis (SoSRC) and the Centre for Action on Rape and Abuse (CARA) in North Essex. These support services provide crucial help to victims of sexual offences, such as counselling, to help them through their ordeal and piece their lives back together.
From April 2016 I will be formally commissioning this work which will provide financial stability to the continued provision of this essential support to victims.
Crucially the funding has also enabled SERICC and CARA to provide specialist support in West Essex, where previously none existed. This means victims of sexual offences across Essex now have access to the help they need.
I continue to provide support to the Brentwood-based Sexual Abuse Referral Centre (SARC), along with partners from the NHS and Essex Police. The SARC is a specialist, safe and confidential centre providing services for victims including health screening, forensic examination and signposting to support agencies.
This support includes funding to provide Independent Sexual Violence Advocates (ISVAs). These individuals can provide practical support to victims of sexual abuse, such as supporting them to return to work, helping them arrange alternative accommodation and even providing financial support where appropriate.
I have also created the Essex Victims Gateway website which contains valuable information for people to find support if they have been a victim of crime regardless of whether they have reported the offence to police.
My office is supporting the roll-out of the Risk Avert programme across Essex schools. The programme challenges risk-taking behaviour which could ultimately lead them into offending. It also educates young people about what constitutes a healthy relationship.
More broadly, my office provided crucial evidence to the All Party Parliamentary Group on The Changing Landscape of Domestic and Sexual Violence Services. This was an opportunity to provide input, on a national platform, about the continuing challenges and needs of supporting victims in both of these areas.
I and my team continue to work with Essex Police and partners in understanding the challenges posed by Child Sexual Exploitation in order that we may continue to tackle this heinous crime, to ensure our children are protected and supported where they sadly become victims.
Hidden harms such as sexual violence, child sexual exploitation and online grooming have also become a new area of focus in my Police and Crime Plan. This means working with partners to tackle these crimes will remain my priority.
As Police and Crime Commissioner, I will continue to encourage anyone who has been the victim of a serious sexual offence to report this to police. This will enable officers to investigate the crime and to work with partner agencies to provide any safeguarding or support that may be necessary.
I cannot say often enough: “if you have been the victim of crime, please tell Essex Police”. You can also report crime anonymously by calling Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.
For further support and advice on serious sexual offences, you can contact: SERICC on 01375 380609; SoSRC on 01702 667590, and CARA on 01206 769795.
Nick Alston, Police and Crime Commissioner for Essex