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Health / New law means sexual assault victims wanting forensic examination won’t have to report to police

Lerwick's Gilbert Bain Hospital. Photo: Shetland News

VICTIMS of rape and sexual assault in Scotland no longer need to go through the police to access a forensic examination in a change aimed at giving people more control.

Instead people can contact the NHS, at any time of the day, to have an examination.

NHS Shetland chief midwife Jacqui Whittaker said it was a private and confidential service.

The new legislation came into force on Friday, and gives anyone aged 16 or over the ability to self-refer for a forensic examination.

The DNA from the examination can be kept on file by the NHS for up to 26 months.

In this time the victim can decide their next step, instead of having to report it to the police in the first instance.

“We know that following an assault you probably don’t want to think about prosecution at that point,” Whittaker said. “So this gives you an option.

“We can do your examination and make sure everything is okay, collect the DNA samples for you, offer you any sexual health advice that you need, talk about where you can go – whether that’s your GP or Rape Crisis.”

Examinations take place at the Gilbert Bain Hospital in Lerwick, with staff on call around the clock.

To self-refer people would need to call NHS 24, with staff then getting in touch with the hospital. NHS Shetland would then phone the victim back.

Another change in the legislation is that people can request the gender of the examiner.

Once the circumstances have been established by health staff a forensic medical examiner will fly up to Shetland.

Nationally it is known that there are a lot more sexual assaults than those reported to the police.

Whittaker said what health services are aware of is just the “tip of the iceberg”.

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“There’s a fear that if they do report it, will they be believed?” she added.

“We’re not here to do that. All we’re here to do is to do that examination, make sure you’re well, take that evidence for you, and with support from Rape Crisis afterwards you can make a decision whether you want to report to the police later.

“We’re here – whether you’re a male or whether you’re a female – to make sure that you’re well and that you’re safe.”

Whittaker added that NHS Shetland is on hand to provide help such as the morning after pill, emergency contraception, any Hepatitis B vaccine or any HIV preventative medication.

She said there is also a seven-day window to collect DNA. People can still contact NHS 24 but they will be referred to the sexual health clinic.

NHS 24 can be contacted on 0800 148 88 88 at any time of the day.

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