Rape survivors urge government to provide specialist counselling support

Fern Champion was repeatedly turned away from her local crisis centres on her return to the UK due to demand far outweighing supply

Maya Oppenheim
Women's Correspondent
Friday 08 March 2019 01:38
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This comes after MPs warned specific support services for victims could cease to exist due to a simultaneous lack of funding and a rise in the number of people needing help
This comes after MPs warned specific support services for victims could cease to exist due to a simultaneous lack of funding and a rise in the number of people needing help

Rape survivors have urged the government to provide specialist counselling support for those who need it amid concerns a lack of funding means women are not accessing the vital services they need.

Their plea came after MPs warned specific support services for victims could cease to exist due to a simultaneous lack of funding and a rise in the number of people needing help.

A report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Sexual Violence last year found sexual assault victims were waiting up to 14 months for counselling because specialist support services were finding it difficult to keep up with “unprecedented demand”.

At the end of 2017/18, there were 6,355 victims on rape crisis waiting lists. Some centres had to close their waiting lists completely due to a shortfall of funding.

Fern Champion, who was raped on a gap year in Malaysia in 2016, was repeatedly turned away from her local crisis centres on her return to the UK due to demand far outweighing supply.

It was only when her employer stepped in and helped arrange private counselling that Ms Champion was able to get support.

She has now written to the government calling for greater funding to ensure victims of sexual abuse receive the help they need.

Ms Champion, who has waived her right to anonymity said: "The reality is there are thousands of survivors of rape and sexual abuse suffering in silence and desperate for support being turned away from local Rape Crisis centres and other sexual violence support services across the country."

In a direct appeal for signatories to her petition, which goes live on Change.org on Friday, she said: "Help me hold this Government to account for the complete failure to ensure rape counselling services are there when survivors need them. Tell Theresa May that every victim of sexual violence has the right to access independent specialist support services in the community the moment they seek it, and to get long term counselling that will help them recover."

There are just over 40 such centres in England and Wales, with its services accessed by 78,461 individuals in 2017-18 - up 17 per cent on the previous year.

But many appear to have long waiting lists, meaning women have little or no chance of immediately receiving the counselling they need.

Lucy Hayton, centre manager of West London rape crisis centre, said Ms Champion's story was "all too familiar".

She said: "Due to limited resources, we are sometimes faced with the terrible decision as to whether we should close our waiting lists or keep them open until they reach unmanageable levels.

"This is due to an absence of funding. Unfortunately, society has so far been unable to honour survivors' bravery in speaking out against sexual violence and abuse by failing to provide even a fraction of the resources required to support their total and sustainable recovery. We must do better."

Last December’s report on sexual assault victims said: "The impacts on victims and survivors who have been subjected to sexual violence and abuse and then are unable to access specialist support cannot be overstated and must not be lost sight of."

It called for "urgent action" to be taken and made recommendations "to prevent the destruction of the specialist sexual violence and abuse sector".

A Government spokesperson said: "Victims of rape and sexual violence show immense bravery in coming forward, and we want them to have the confidence to report incidents knowing they will get the support they need and that everything will be done to bring offenders to justice. That is why we have nearly doubled funding for victim support services since 2013, as well as a 10 per cent increase for specialist sexual abuse services.

“We are also taking action through our Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy, backed by £100 million of funding, to further support victims and prevent these crimes from happening in the first place. As part of this work we will undertake a review of the criminal justice system’s response to rape and sexual offences to ensure we support survivors through every stage of this process.”

Additional reporting by wires

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