Peers call on government to preserve specialist rape support

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Specialist support teams and police officers are the best means of encouraging rape victims to take legal action and seek counselling, a number of peers have suggested.

The argument was put forward during a debate on 12 February 2013 on a joint report by the Ministry of Justice, the Home Office and the Office for National Statistics entitled An Overview of Sexual Offending in England and Wales.

Crossbencher Baroness Stern, author of a 2010 report on the UK's rape laws, said specialist support within police forces and counselling services was making "an enormous difference".

Such dedicated services "increase reporting, increase victim confidence and increase victims' willingness to stay with the long drawn-out process" of taking legal action, Lady Stern said.

She saw reasons for optimism about women's safety, concluding that the country was moving "slowly but surely from gross deficiencies of the past to a more just and effective response".

The debate was led by Labour's Lord Desai, who related that he had been in Delhi at the time of the gang rape that has provoked a global outcry. He said he had witnessed "an upsurge of movement" in India and around the world regarding women's safety.

Lib Dem and barrister Baroness Hamwee called for "a broader approach" to improving the legal process than looking at the conviction rate.

"Increased sexualisation of our culture" contributed to "an enabling environment", in the words of the Bishop of Worcester, the Right Reverend John Inge.

Responding for the opposition Baroness Thornton said the debate highlighted "what an important job there is still to do" on combating sexual violence.

She pressed the government on what it was doing to educate children about sexual consent and respectful relationships. "How will the government step up to tackle the evil of violence against women?" she asked.

Home Office Minister Lord Taylor of Holbeach said it should be addressed in schools through personal social health and economic (PSHE) lessons, a review of which is underway.

Lord Taylor also emphasised the government was "wholly committed" to ending violence against women through measures such as the publication of an inter-departmental strategy on the issue and "£40m stable, ringfenced funding for specialist local services and national helplines".

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