Mary Durkan says enhanced service for victims of sexual violence will protect privacy and give survivors a voice
Mary Durkan, Foyleside Councillor, has welcomed this week’s launch of a pilot scheme offering free independent legal advice to victims of sexual offences.
SOLAs (Sexual Offences Legal Advisors) will provide services through Victim Support NI hubs in Belfast and Derry for an initial period of two years.
Councillor Durkan said, “This pilot scheme follows key recommendations arising from the Gillen Review. Given that women and girls are disproportionately affected by sexual violence, this is also important to the context of a wider strategy to eliminate violence against women and girls.
"Too many victims of sexual violence have been let down by the criminal justice system in the past. Too many people have encountered barriers to accessing justice. Cases involving sexual crime have unique sensitivities and difficulties.”
Miss Durkan, a practising barrister, continued, “The expert advice will be completely independent from the police and prosecution services. There will be a particular focus around privacy rights of complainants regarding disclosure of medical records and previous sexual history.”
Councillor Durkan added, “We all hope that victims and survivors of sexual offences will have their rights protected and their voices heard throughout legal proceedings. Let’s hope that the enhancement of support services will help to build confidence in a flawed system, with more victims coming forward and reporting sexual crime.”