Consultant paediatrician Dr Fiona Straw was presented with a Supporting Award by Police and Crime Commissioner Caroline Henry.
A routine forensic examination of an 11-year-old rape survivor in 2003 led to a pivotal moment that transformed how young people are supported after suffering horrific sexual abuse in Nottinghamshire.
The distraught girl had been taken to Oxclose Police Station for an examination by medical professionals to provide forensic evidence that helped the police successfully prosecute her attacker.
But the care the young survivor received as part of the process felt sadly lacking for one of the people present that day, consultant paediatrician Dr Fiona Straw, who was inspired from that moment to champion radical change.
Dr Straw, who received a special Supporting Award in Police and Crime Commissioner Caroline Henry’s dedicated section of the Nottinghamshire Police Force Awards on Tuesday April 25, said care for young survivors of sexual assault has improved hugely since then.
“The examination felt invasive. We were doing all these things to her but not nurturing her,” she said.
“It made me reflect on what we were doing and strive to think about ways we could support children who were subjected to sexual violence.
“What we know about survivors of sexual violence is they feel responsible for their abuse, even though they are not. Making them come to a police station can perpetuate those feelings which can perhaps lead to them withdrawing their allegations.
“It was incredibly traumatic to be examined in a police station. Because of the environmental constraints of the police station and very forensic nature of the examination we were unable to provide the holistic, nurturing care that these young people need at this most traumatic time in their lives.
“The priority wasn’t to give them emergency contraception, test them for sexually transmitted diseases or provide therapeutic support. It was just to get forensic evidence for prosecution.”
Dr Straw began to campaign for forensic examinations to be taken out of police stations and into a more suitable environment with more support in place to help the wellbeing of the survivors.
After years of hard work and attempts to change perceptions, she gained support from NHS England, Nottingham Hospitals Charity and Police and Crime Commissioners from across the East Midlands for funding and resources for a new state-of-the-art regional facility at the Queen’s Medical Centre in Nottingham.
The East Midlands Children and Young People Sexual Assault Service opened its doors on 1 April 2018. During the Covid pandemic, new national funding became available and a second examination room was opened in April 2020.
And in July 2022, following more funding from Nottingham Hospitals Charity and a further £60,000 from Police and Crime Commissioner Caroline Henry’s Office, a new video recorded interview suite opened at the service, allowing children to be interviewed by police within the hospital environment, rather than having to travel to a police station.
The facility is going from strength-to-strength, providing support for a growing number of children and young people, with referrals increasing by 25% in the last year alone.
Dr Straw said she was delighted to win the Supporting Award, which recognises outstanding achievements by people outside of the police service in helping to support victims or survivors of crime.
“The real winners are hopefully the children and young people because people are now taking sexual violence against children more seriously. It is an important topic and we should all be talking about it,” she said.
“I am part of a big team of very passionate people so the award is for them as well.”
Commissioner Henry presented Dr Straw with a trophy at the ceremony at Sherwood Lodge Joint Force Headquarters in Arnold.
She said: “Dr Fiona Straw has demonstrated total commitment over many long years to put better support in place for children and young people affected by sexual violence and abuse. It wasn’t that many years ago – only 2017 - when children and young people who had experienced these terrible crimes received little in the way of physical and mental health support.
“We now have an excellent paediatric sexual assault referral centre in Nottingham for children and young people - and I can honestly say that that wouldn’t have happened without Dr Straw.
“Our most vulnerable children and young people have greatly improved support locally because of Dr Straw and I am delighted to recognise that by presenting her with this award.”
This year’s event took place at the force’s Sherwood Lodge headquarters across two ceremonies.
An afternoon ceremony saw Long Service and Good Conduct medals presented to over 170 officers and staff, while the evening ceremony included 20 main awards, the Police and Crime Commissioner’s awards and over a hundred Chief Constable Commendations.
Among the award winners was a Response cop who jumped into the River Trent to save the life of a 12-year-old girl who was drowning, before doing the same weeks later to save a woman.
A team of detectives who brought down gang members involved in the theft of a £3.5million tiara were also recognised, as were two police investigators who brought online stalker Alex Belfield to justice for a relentless campaign of harassment against multiple victims – including a high-profile BBC presenter.
Chief Constable Kate Meynell said: “I would like to congratulate all of this year’s nominees and winners and to show my appreciation to all of our colleagues at Nottinghamshire Police for their hard work and dedication to serving the people of Nottinghamshire and keeping our communities safe.
“I’m incredibly proud and humbled to hear the amazing stories and incredible acts of bravery performed by our officers, staff, volunteers and members of the public and to know that those acts of bravery, kindness and commitment go on every day.”
Posted on Tuesday 9th May 2023