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Exclusive: Thousands of rape victims denied specialist support with services in 'permanent crisis'

  • Video report by ITV News Correspondent Rebecca Barry

Thousands of victims of sexual violence are being denied specialist counselling as services struggle to cope with funding shortages and unprecedented demand.

Rape Crisis has told ITV News that its centres are “living hand to mouth” and regularly having to suspend waiting lists due to the sheer number of people seeking help.

The “permanent crisis” that centres say they find themselves in comes despite a promise from the then Home Secretary Theresa May in 2016 that sexual violence support services would have the resources they needed to ensure “no victim is turned away”.

Figures from Rape Crisis’ latest annual review and shared with ITV News reveal:

  • an estimated 6,241 people were on a waiting list for specialist counselling as of 31st March 2019 - this includes 172 children
  • the average time spent on waiting list for adults and children is six months with some having to wait as long as two years
  • centres have experienced a 9% increase in demand since 2017/18
  • nearly 4,000 children under 15 were supported last year at Rape Crisis centres - an increase of 22% on the previous year
An estimated 6,241 people are currently on a waiting list for specialist counselling. Credit: ITV News

Campaigners say the legacy of the #MeToo movement and the launch of the government's Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse post-Savile has sparked a demand for help that the system is ill-equipped to cope with.

The current funding model - whereby money is not ring-fenced when it is devolved to a local level - has also been blamed, with cash left “at the whim” of local authorities, Clinical Commissioning Groups and Police and Crime Commissioners, all of whom are having to balance a range of other responsibilities after nearly a decade of austerity.

Short-term grants and contracts also leave staff spending vast amounts of time and energy on securing further funding and survival Instead of focusing on provision, Rape Crisis spokesperson Katie Russell added.

Central Government funding to the organisation rose by 8% on the previous year but covered only 14% of its total service provision; frontline workers argue this fails to keep pace with the demand, forcing centres to keep survivors waiting and living with the legacy of their ordeal.

The average time spent on waiting list for adults and children is six months. Credit: ITV News

Rosemary Carr appealed for help more than three decades after she was abused as a child.

“I was too scared to tell because I didn’t think anyone would believe me and that impact makes you feel like you’re not worthy,” Rosemary, who waived her right to anonymity for this interview, told ITV News.

“It’s as if you’re soiled or smeared or damaged and you yourself start believing that.”

But despite her courage to come forward, she was forced to wait more than 18 months before being seen at one of the country’s biggest centres in Leeds.

“I was helpless, frustrated and felt what’s the point?”

Justyna Muller, the lead counsellor at the centre, said this feeling of rejection felt by thousands of victims only compounded their trauma.

“It is heartbreaking to know I am rejecting someone else, I am blocking the door and they may never be able to contact any services again.”

Once Rosemary was eventually able to access treatment, the results were transformative.

“Specialist therapy helped scrub that off me and realise it wasn’t my dirt, it wasn’t my smear and there wasn’t anything wrong with me.

“It’s as if I’ve been given a second chance in life to be somebody I never knew I was.”

Specialist counsellors at a Rape Crisis centre. Credit: ITV News

Sarah Champion, the chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Sexual Violence, responding to the new figures, said: “Theresa May’s promise that no victim would be turned away is now laughable. She made it four years ago: by 2020 any survivor of sexual abuse was meant to get he support and service they need to rebuild their life - that simply isn’t happening.”

A government spokesperson said: “Victims of rape and sexual violence show immense courage in coming forward and it is vital they receive the support they need.

“We are now funding services across more regions than ever after nearly doubling the money available since 2013, including a 10% increase in April to total £24 million over the next three years.

“Victims can access any of the centrally-funded rape support services free of charge to receive specialist emotional and practical support, as well as any of the 47 NHS funded Sexual Assault Referral Centres."