Female doctors in Scotland are to be surveyed to find out what more can be done to encourage their participation in forensic examinations for sexual assault victims.
The Scottish Government and NHS Education for Scotland (NES) are working together to respond to an area where victims almost always prefer to be examined by a female examiner.
Michael Matheson, Cabinet Secretary for Justice, confirmed the partnership while speaking at an event hosted by Edinburgh Rape Crisis.
The event highlighted ‘A Woman’s Story’, a personal account of one woman’s journey through the legal process after a rape had been reported.
Mr Matheson said that much has still to be done to support victims and respond to their needs.
He said: “I am incredibly privileged to have met with the author earlier this year and Edinburgh Rape Crisis’s event was an opportunity to reflect on her words which demonstrated that we still have much to do to improve how our justice system responds to victims’ needs.
“I was particularly concerned about the way she described her experience of the forensic examination process. It is of course vital to preserve and record evidence following a rape or sexual assault, but we must be able do so while ensuring victims are treated with the upmost sensitivity.
“Seeking to achieve a greater gender balance in our forensic examination workforce is one practical way we can respond to this concern. As a first step, I am pleased that NES will survey female doctors to give us a better understanding of their awareness and concerns about this essential work.
“We need to know what the barriers and negative perceptions of this type of work are and identify how we respond to this currently unmet need.”
Professor Stewart Irvine, medical director of NES said the organisation is pleased to be contributing to the study. He added: “We look forward to working with the Scottish Government to improve the situation for victims of sexual assault.
“We hope our survey of female doctors will help us to identify any possible barriers, so that appropriate steps can be taken to support a greater gender balance in doctors carrying out examinations.”
Rape Crisis Scotland has also said that rape survivors consistently relate how difficult they find being examined by a male doctor in the immediate aftermath of an assault.
Sandy Brindley, national co-ordinator, said: “The least we should be able to offer in these circumstances is an examination by a female doctor.
“We are very supportive of the new survey, and the efforts being made by the Government to improve immediate responses to rape survivors.”