Sexual violence and exploitation are public health issues

By on 18/03/2014 in Blog, Cllr Bedser
Cllr Steve Bedser

Cllr Steve Bedser

Almost a year after public health responsibilities transferred back to local government, Birmingham City Council is getting to grips with sexual health…and that means tackling big issues like sexual violence and exploitation.

Cabinet member for Health and Wellbeing, Cllr Steve Bedser, writes:

Ask most people what sexual health services meant to them and the most common answers will be contraception or family planning and of course sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

In truth, that is only part of the story.

In Birmingham we're currently reviewing services to ensure we meet the needs of one of Europe's youngest cities in 2014 and that means an increased focus on the less talked about issues of sexual coercion, sexual violence and exploitation.

Figures taken from the British Crime Survey show that 76,000 Birmingham women and 1,100 men have been subject to a sexual assault since the age of 16. In 2011 (the most recent figures we have), that amounted to 11,600 women and 1,100 men.

It would clearly be a mistake not to factor these vulnerable people into our new strategy.

Our aim is to ensure that all residents have the opportunity to live healthy sexual and reproductive lives, free of discrimination, coercion and violence.

There has been an increased national spotlight on what you might call the darker side of sexual health in recent years and we know from our own consultation with service users, elected members and the wider public that sexual violence and coercion are important issues to the people of Birmingham.

So what can we do about it?

Well our view is that sexual health services can do more to support and identify people who are at risk or are already subject to coercion and violence.

Through this review we're aiming to improve the relationship between sexual health services and, for example, sexual assault referral centres. So we're asking the organisations bidding for this work to start putting particular types of staff in place to support people who may have been through horrific experiences.

We know that simply coming forward and reporting an issue takes a great deal of courage and can be a very daunting experience. So we want to ensure that the right support is in place to make the process as painless as possible for some of the most vulnerable people in Birmingham.

So if, for example, a victim of sexual violence is considering reporting an issue, what type of support do they need as they encounter the police and the criminal justice system? How can we give people the confidence that they will be heard and supported?

We know that other cities are starting to think about how sexual health services can be used to pick up and respond to sexual violence. Our hope is that by putting the issue at the very heart of a major overhaul of sexual health provision in Birmingham, we can meet our city's 21st Century needs.

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