Content warning: this article briefly mentions rape.

The picture over the past 18 months

From discussions around male perpetrated sexual violence in response to the news stories surrounding the rape and murder of Sarah Everard, to the campaigning by violence against women and girls (VAWG) organisations and finally the government ‘end-to-end rape review report’; conversations around the sexual violence women and girls in our society are so vulnerable to have been prevalent.

This paired with the unshakeable fact that the pandemic and it’s subsequent lockdowns laid bare just how common domestic violence is in the UK – to the extent that lockdown rules and restrictions had to be adjusted to accommodate vulnerable women who might need to flee their homes – has put a spotlight on the services such as those provided by Rape Crisis England & Wales.

The recent report by Rape Crisis, ‘Holding it Together’ shines a further light on this issue

The report found that the lockdown has adversely impacted the mental health of victims and survivors who were already experiencing trauma, noting ‘lockdown isolation, pandemic-related bereavement, job insecurity and daily pressures.’

Over the past year, Rape Crisis Centres have provided a total of 1,094,467 sessions of ‘specialist support, including advocacy, emotional support and counselling’, which is a 41% increase from the year spanning 2019-20.

“It is clear from the report, that victims and survivors need access to specialist sexual violence and abuse services more than ever. It is also clear that the funding model for these services is ineffective, inflexible and unsustainable.” CEO of Rape Crisis England & Wales, Jayne Butler said.

Although these centres have been able to provide a record amount of support to survivors, the report stated that there is currently 10,000 people on waiting lists for some kind of support, of which three quarters are waiting for specialist counselling.

Rape Crisis England & Wales is calling for cross-government, long-term funding commitments to ensure all Rape Crisis Centres are able to sustain their support services

The report also found that the demand over the past 18 months not only came from new service users, but that as the impact of the pandemic took hold on those already accessing support services, their needs also increased. Rape Crisis reported that service users are displaying ‘a multitude of complex mental health issues’ and that many Centres have found they are ‘propping up’ local mental health services.

Much of the emergency funding throughout the pandemic to specialist by and for support services such as those provided by Rape Crisis, was from the ‘Ministry of Justice and Police and Crime Commissioners, very little funding came from Health Commissioners’ the report found.

Emergency funding will cease in March 2022 (marking two years from the initial national lockdown), leaving many centres with no option but to reduce services when demand only seems to be increasing.

In a statement, Jayne Butler, CEO of Rape Crisis England & Wales has said:

“Our COVID report demonstrates the resilience and tenacity of our Rape Crisis Centres and workers, who have rapidly increased service provisions to meet user demand. During a challenging time for everyone, they have gone above and beyond to ensure that victims and survivors are able to access special support services.”

“Despite these best efforts, the demand for specialist support is now far exceeding the funding available. There are currently 10,000 victims and survivors on Rape Crisis waiting lists, with this number likely to grow as emergency funding is set to stop at the end of the financial year.”

“It’s important to remember that Rape Crisis Centres have been chronically underfunded for decades, so even before the pandemic resources were stretched. Although funding during COVID-19 increased significantly, thanks to support from the Ministry of Justice and local Police Crime Commissioners, we urgently need a cross- government effort to get services on a more sustainable footing. This requires commitment and resourcing from all departments.”

In their report, Rape Crisis released recommendations based on their findings:

  • ‘A cross-government long-term funding commitment and strategy for Rape Crisis Centres’ improving accessibility, grow services and workforce.
  • ‘Flexible funding for Rape Crisis Centre core costs’ currently all funding is aimed at service delivery exclusively, meaning funds for expanding management and recruiting etc is limited.

On the 27th of October the Autumn budget was announced, citing an £80m increase in resources to the Crown Prosecution Service by 2024-25: with the aim of increasing convictions of rape and sexual assault cases, this was previously set out in the end-to-end Rape Review.

For support services, an annual increase of £185m by 2024-25 was promised, to ‘increase the number of independent Sexual and Domestic Violence Advisors…and fund other key services such as crisis helplines’.

Despite this increase of funding appearing positive at first glance (it is actually a 85% increase from the spending in 2019-20) the End Violence Against Women coalition (EVAW) reported that estimates from Women’s Aid and Rape Crisis show a need for a £409m investment for domestic abuse services and a £102.7 investment to meet demand for ‘specialist sexual violence and abuse services’ respectively.

Proposed £185m increase in funding to support services is welcome but a ‘drop in the ocean’ when compared to the demand, say EVAW

Time and time again, over the past year we are seeing evidence of how the Covid-19 pandemic has uniquely and adversely impacted certain demographics in our society, and this impact continues to have a detrimental effect on their mental health.

Those who have experienced sexual violence and/or abuse are particularly vulnerable to developing mental-ill health, especially when the support they need is not available to them through either the NHS or local third-sector organisations.

Organisations such as Rape Crisis England & Wales can only do so much to meet demand when the funding they receive is so restricted. The government must work with these organisations to create flexible and tailor-made funding packages to those doing this essential work, if we are to keep thousands of vulnerable women from a near future where waiting lists for specialist support are only set to get longer and longer.

If the issues discussed in this article have affected you, you can call the Rape Crisis helpline on 0808 802 9999 between 12:00-14:30 and 19:00-21:30 every day. You can also chat to them online here.