Sexual assault service lobbies for forensic unit in Horsham

A SEXUAL assault counselling service wants to save victims from having to travel hours for forensic medical examinations.

Barwon Centre Against Sexual Assault chief executive Helen Bolton said Wimmera people who had experienced sexual assault had to travel to Ballarat or Melbourne to give evidence by way of physical examination.

"It can take up to eight hours in a round trip to do the travel, including the forensic medical examination," she said.

"Often, it happens in the middle of the night.

"For a child, it becomes even more complex, because it is often a child protection matter as well."

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A doctor qualified by the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine is based in Horsham.

But the city lacks an appropriate venue for medical examinations.

"The Department of Justice has a strict set of guidelines for the collection of evidence," Ms Bolton said.

"We're seeking to develop a unit that meets those guidelines, to ensure people in Horsham and district don't need to travel."

She said Barwon CASA's Horsham offices would be ideal for a sexual assault crisis care unit.

The Roberts Avenue premises is opposite the police station and would be run in conjunction with Horsham's Sexual Offences and Child Abuse Investigation Team, SOCIT.

But the building, which opened last month, would have to be modified to meet the Department of Justice's guidelines.

"If we had the money, we could do it within a couple of weeks" - Barwon CASA chief executive Helen Bolton

"We're anticipating it would cost up to $30,000 all up, which is not included in our funding," Ms Bolton said.

The bulk of the money would be spent on equipment, including medical instruments and security technology.

An internal wall would also need to be knocked down.

"If we had the money, we could do it within a couple of weeks," Ms Bolton said.

The service has inquired about possible State Government grants.

Otherwise, Barwon CASA and SOCIT would have to investigate philanthropic fundraising.

Ms Bolton said a sexual assault crisis care unit would be worth the effort.

"To be told you have to travel at least two hours to undergo a medical examination would be daunting," she said.

"These people have already experienced a traumatic episode."

She said it was preferable people were transported by a SOCIT police member, to ensure evidenciary procedures were upheld.

Three forensic medical examinations have gone through to Ballarat since Barwon CASA won the contract for the Wimmera's sexual assault counselling services in March last year.

Ms Bolton said it was a fairly significant consideration for people to take on board, especially if they were already vulnerable or distressed.

"Most people would probably decline," she said.

That meant physical evidence would not be available if they wanted to pursue prosecution.

She said a Wimmera-based sexual assault crisis care unit would ensure continuity of care.

"All the Horsham providers would be there to provide integrated support and the service would navigate around the person, rather than the person trying to navigate the system," Ms Bolton said.

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