A new team of Sussex Police officers and staff specially trained to support victims of serious sexual assaults has been launched this month (September).
The Sexual Offence Investigation Trained (SOIT) team is the first such unit in the country to include police staff and newcomers to the force as well as police officers.
Officers and staff across the force have already been able to provide this type of support service and continued to do so while the new SOIT officers were trained to take over the responsibility on a full-time basis, explained a police spokesperson.
Twenty SOIT officers and staff are working from locations across the county, based alongside colleagues in the specialist safeguarding investigations units (SIUs) in Eastbourne, Hastings, Brighton, Littlehampton and Crawley.
The team members act as a single point of contact for victims and are on hand to support victims throughout a criminal investigation from initial reporting right through to court proceedings and beyond.
One of the new members of the SOIT said, “What comes true from everyone is that they believe in this role, in their heart. They want to do it. It’s not just a job. It is career but it’s something they really believe. We are looking to make a difference.”
The introduction of this dedicated role will help investigators to conduct high quality investigations in the knowledge that the victim will be receiving the level of care, support and information that they need, said the police spokesperson.
In the past four months the team has receiving specialist training in responding to incidents of serious sexual offending.
The training has included attachments to police response and investigations teams, the Force contact centre, the multi-agency safeguarding hubs, courts and work in the SIUs to shadow and understand the contact that officers have with victims. They have also made links with our partner agencies to develop working relationships.
They have learned what happens from the point of the first time an offence is reported, how to get the information from victims to help the investigating officers and how to support the victim throughout the investigation, liaising with external support services and agencies.
The introduction of the team is an extra area of investment for Sussex Police and has been financed by a rise in the police precept proportion of council tax, secured by Katy Bourne, the Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner.
The team comprises police constables with a background in working with victims, some existing police staff working in investigations, crime scene investigation and domestic abuse casework, and several newcomers from outside the force including some from partner agencies with experience in supporting victims.
Assistant Chief Constable Nick May said, “This is an example of the force putting extra resources in place to improve the service we provide to those who are victims of some of the most serious crimes.
“We recognise how hard it can be for victims of sexual offences to make a report and there have always been arrangements in place to support them when they do so, but with introduction of these dedicated roles we are now better equipped to respond when people have the courage to come forward, which is already happening increasingly often.”
Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne added, “My commitment to support victims of crime and put them at the heart of the criminal justice system remains a key priority in our Police and Crime Plan.
“That is why I was pleased that the public supported an uplift in last year’s precept - with a large proportion going to increase resources in Sussex Police’s Public Protection unit. These specially trained officers will perform a vital role in terms of case processing, supporting investigation and providing services directly to victims of serious sexual assault.
“All victims tell me that what matters the most to them is being kept informed. So it is vital that victims of serious sexual assault receive ongoing communication and that there is a joined up approach from all of those involved – it is only by doing this that we can contribute to a more just outcome.”
Helen Race of the Sussex-based Survivors’ Network said it was ‘great to see how Sussex Police have listened to feedback from those affected by sexual violence and been responsive in their design of this service’.
“We are delighted to have been consulted and involved in its development and are optimistic to see positive outcomes for survivors through this approach.
“Should someone choose to make a report of this type to the police it is important they have access to support alongside it, and have any options explained to them. This is something we can support with, and it is reassuring to see what Sussex Police can be offering with this new team.”