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Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Unprecedented demand sees sexual assault support services 'at crisis point'

Written by Margaret Davis and Jasmine Cameron-Chileshe

Sexual assault victims are waiting up to 14 months for counselling as specialist support services struggle to cope with "unprecedented demand", MPs have warned.

A report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Sexual Violence said specific support services for victims could cease to exist completely due to lack of funding and a surge in the number of people needing help.

Figures show that in 2017/18, Rape Crisis services were used by 78,461 people, an increase of 17% on the previous year.

At the end of 2017/18, there were 6,355 victims on Rape Crisis waiting lists, with the wait for counselling ranging from three to 14 months.

Some centres had to close their waiting lists completely due to lack of funding.

The report 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 went on: "While different sources of funding are guided by different processes and priorities, there is a growing consensus that the unprecedented growth in demand, coupled with the scarcity of resources, is threatening the very existence of the specialist sexual violence sector, with significant consequences for victims and survivors."

The APPG called for evidence from specialist sexual violence services in June and held oral sessions in October.

Its report found: "Sexual violence and abuse support services have been described as at crisis point. Need and demand for their specialist services from victims and survivors of all forms of sexual violence and abuse are at unprecedented levels and continue to rise year on year.

"Many Rape Crisis centres and other specialist providers operate waiting lists for their services and some have had to take the difficult decision to close their waiting lists. It can take a lot of courage to reach out for support and services describe it as 'agonising' and 'soul-destroying' to not always be able to provide this."

MPs highlighted the use of short-term grants and contracts forcing smaller charities to divert "too much time and energy" to secure cash.

The report said: "As it stands the Government's commitment in the 2016 Violence against Women and Girls strategy that by 2020 'no victim will be turned away' will not be achieved."

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

These include calls to:

  • - Create a statutory right to specialist sexual violence and abuse support services.
  • - Set minimum standards for levels of specialist sexual violence service provision across England and Wales.
  • - Ring-fence funding for sexual violence and abuse support services "so that the resources of these services are not subject to political whim and favour".
  • - Make local services together write a "victim's promise" document setting out the needs of victims and survivors, the availability of services and the local strategy to improve accessibility.
  • - Give services contracts of at least three years, preferably five.
  • - Audit the local allocation of funds for specialist sexual violence and abuse services, making sure women-only services are protected.

A Government spokesman said: "Rape and sexual abuse are devastating crimes - no victims should be left to suffer alone.

"Funding for victim support services has nearly doubled to £96 million since 2013, including a 10% increase this year for specialist sexual abuse services .

"We also recently guaranteed funding for a three-year period, offering long-term stability and encouraging more victims come forward to get the support they need."

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2018, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Niall Carson / PA Wire.