Victims of serious sexual assault can wait two years for support as waiting lists hit record high
Waiting lists for victims of rape and serious sexual assault have risen to their longest on record, with some people having to wait two years for specialist support.
The latest figures from Rape Crisis show nearly 10,000 people in England and Wales are waiting to speak with counsellors and therapists, double the number from four years ago, despite women describing the service as a “lifeline”.
Some centres have even been forced to close their waiting lists under mounting financial pressure, despite a marked increase in the number of rape victims coming forward to report allegations to police.
Rape Crisis said it is expanding to try and meet demand, and that sustainable funding from across government is now required to better meet demand.
Jayne Butler, the charity’s chief executive, told the PA news agency: “For many victims and survivors, reaching out for help is a huge step, one taken with extreme trepidation and difficulty – to make that step and then be told you have to wait up to two years for support is devastating and will leave many victims and survivors feeling as if they have nowhere to turn.”
Figures show 9,947 people were on the Rape Crisis waiting list as of the end of March this year.
This was up from 8,444 at the end of 2019-20, and 4,961 in 2016-17.
More than 66,000 people accessed Rape Crisis’ specialist services in England and Wales last year, with initial estimates that the figure has increased to around 75,000 across its 39 centres in the 12 months since.
The waiting list data represents a further blow to the Government’s aim of reversing its dire record on rape, which has seen convictions plummet, with roughly half of all victims who report their ordeal to the police later dropping their complaint.
It prompted former justice secretary Robert Buckland QC, Home Secretary Priti Patel and Attorney General Michael Ellis to apologise upon publication of the Government’s Rape Review in the summer, saying they were “deeply ashamed” that “victims of rape are being failed”.
The Government last week pledged to increase annual funding for Ministry of Justice victim support services to more than £185 million by 2024/25 – an 85% increase on funding in 2019/20, which will also help provide more Independent Sexual and Domestic Violence Advisers (ISVAs and IDVAs).
Ms Butler said the money was a “welcome move towards greater sustainability of services”, amid anecdotal evidence from some centres of staff having to spend weeks preparing to bid for short-term grants to tide them over.
But she said financial pressures remained.
She said: “The significant increase in the number of people on Rape Crisis Centre waiting lists highlights how much of an impact Covid-19 has had on victims and survivors and demonstrates that demand for specialist counselling far exceeds the funding available.
“Our Rape Crisis Centres have worked extremely hard to find ways to support those on waiting lists, including providing regular phone check-ins, email services and online groups.
“Centres have shown they have the skills, knowledge and commitment to increase service provisions, what we really need to see is a cross-government funding commitment so that they can stabilise, develop their services and reduce waiting list times.
“Overwhelmingly, those accessing our services require specialist counselling, therapy, and emotional support. We need to ensure that any funding commitments enable Rape Crisis Centres to provide these specific services so we can best meet survivor needs.”
The West Mercia Rape and Sexual Abuse Support Centre was among those Rape Crisis Centres forced to close waiting lists earlier this year.
Its chief executive, Jocelyn Anderson, said staff were “in tears” when the decision was made to turn away people once their waiting list reached 450, despite people including children as young as five being referred to its counselling services.
She said: “We can’t physically employ the counselling team that we have anymore because we haven’t got the funding to do it.
“So we have the situation of numbers growing, and a demand for the service is growing at the same time our resources are shrinking.
“And it just came to a situation where I think it’s probably the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make in this job to actually close the waiting lists for both adults and children.”
Women referred to the Worcester centre described the support as “life changing”, after PA was granted rare media access on site.
Sexual assault survivor Katie, 35, said: “It really was a lifeline for me, and the thought of other survivors not having that support is just wrong and disgusting.”
Claire, in her 40s, who suffered years of historic abuse as a child, said she paid for private counselling sessions to support her through her court ordeal because of the long wait for the charity’s service.
She said: “If it wasn’t for having an ISVA and these services… I wouldn’t have made it through.”
CPS figures for 2019-20 show 1,439 suspects were convicted of rape or lesser offences in England and Wales last year – the lowest level since records began, and down from 1,925 the previous year, despite reports of adult rape to police almost doubling since 2015-16.
There are an estimated 128,000 victims of rape and attempted rape a year, but currently only 1.6% of reported cases result in a charge.
On Thursday, the Office for National Statistics said police forces in England and Wales recorded the highest number of rapes in a 12-month period – 61,158 rapes in the year to June 2021.
The Rape Review added: “We know that victims and the organisations that support them have felt badly let down in the past.”
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