A NORTH-EAST centre for victims of indecent assault and rape is to be built in the region, it was revealed last night.

Cleveland Police have been awarded funding to build a Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC), which will be located on Teesside.

It will be the second SARC facility to be built in the region and will be one of only a few UK centres which will provide care for victims.

News about the service, which will help hundreds of women and children throughout the North-East, comes after Home Secretary David Blunkett announced the most radical overhaul of sex crime legislation for 50 years.

Gay sex offences such as buggery, gross indecency and soliciting by men are expected to be swept away, while protections against rapists, paedophiles and other perverts will be tightened.

Defendants accused of rape will have to show they took "reasonable action" to ensure the other person consented to sex as part of Blunkett's Sexual Offences Bill.

Vera Baird QC, MP for Redcar, a long-standing campaigner for changes in the rape laws, said: "Current law on rape is antiquated and discriminatory, and does not reflect changes in society or social attitudes.

"If the Bill is passed, the defence that the defendant believed the complainant was consenting to rape, when no reasonable person would have thought so, will have had its last days.

"Four rape crisis centres, including one in Teesside, have collapsed in the past year and something needs to be done about that.

"More funding is needed so women can be given support from the outset."

Cleveland Police are currently looking for a suitable venue to house the referral centre.

The centre will provide support and counselling to victims with female GPs to carry out examinations.