A new £2m specialist centre to provide care for victims of rape could be located at Antrim Area Hospital, it was announced last night.
Health Minister Michael McGimpsey confirmed that Antrim is the preferred location for a new regional centre for victims of rape and sexual assault to receive medical aftercare, forensic services and counselling for anyone who needs those services.
Final decisions on the location of the new Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) will be taken once the business case process is complete, he said.
Building work is expected to start on the project by 2009, with the facility likely to open early in 2010. The new centre is a partnership between the Department of Health and the PSNI.
"This investment in a Sexual Assault Referral Centre is a key element in the effort to raise the standards of care for victims of sexual violence in Northern Ireland," Mr McGimpsey said.
"My department, along with the Northern Ireland Office, is currently finalising a regional strategy on Sexual Violence and this is just the start of a series of initiatives aimed at addressing the incidence and aftermath of these horrendous crimes," the minister said.
Policing and Criminal Justice Minister Paul Goggins added: " Establishing a SARC is a significant step and will strengthen our response to the victims of rape and serious sexual assaults."