Rape survivors call for ‘urgent action’ to address funding for specialist counselling support

Rape survivors have called on the Government to provide specialist counselling support for those who need it amid concerns a lack of funding means women are unable to access the crucial services they need.

Fern Champion (pictured), who was raped while 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.

She 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.”

The petition has been backed by activist and actor Emma Watson.

She said: “With the awareness generated by #MeToo, there is an increased demand for support services as more people are emboldened to name what happened to them.

“Rape crisis centres offer much-needed support to people who have been assaulted across England and Wales but demand way outstrips supply.

“Successive UK governments have failed to fund life-saving services.

“On International Women’s Day, I encourage you to sign Fern’s petition and demand that Theresa May guarantees sustained funding for rape crisis support services, so the survivors of sexual violence can access the support they need.”

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

But many are said to have long waiting lists, offering little or no chance of women immediately receiving the counselling they urgently 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.”

It comes after a report in December by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Sexual Violence which 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.

Some sexual assault victims are waiting up to 14 months for counselling, the report said, as specialist support services struggle to cope with “unprecedented demand”.

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.”

The report called for “urgent action” to be taken and made recommendations “to prevent the destruction of the specialist sexual violence and abuse sector”.

Last month, London Mayor Sadiq Khan announced an extra £15 million to help services that support women and girls who suffered from violence in the capital, including money for domestic violence charities.

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