UK: Dwindling funds for Rape Crisis centres heads Blair's shameful domestic legacies Print E-mail
 London ~~ Thursday July 5 2007

Rape support centres hit by funding gap

By Emily Dugan

Victims of rape could be left without proper counselling or support because the Government has been unable to sustain reliable funding for support services. As many as half of  centres are facing closure or severe cuts this year as the Government pulls funds from the organisation.

 believes up to half of its 32 centres, which offer specialised help to victims of sexual abuse, will be forced to close, or left in "severe trouble" if the Ministry of Justice does not renew the Victim Fund grants that were provided last year.

The Victim Fund was established last year with a £1.25m government grant for distribution among organisations that help victims of sexual assault. The fund saved the support network from near collapse, but now, just one year from its inception, it has already cut funds from the charities it set out to help.

Nicole Westmarland, chairwoman of  explained that since the Government was offering no equivalent service, it was its responsibility to maintain reliable funding. "Most women who come to Rape Crisis wouldn't go to the police or the health services, and only 18 per cent have even reported the crime", said Dr Westmarland.

"The Government also doesn't provide an anonymous helpline. They never said the funding would be for ever but the new money created a demand for a service, and now we'll have to turn vulnerable women away." She said she believed that charities were withdrawing financial support because they felt it should be the Government's responsibility to provide it.

It is estimated that 80,000 women are victims of rape or attempted rape every year, yet the specialist support centres say the Government has never had a reliable scheme to fund their work. In 1985, there were 84 centres across England and Wales. Now there are 32, with only two to cover the whole of London.

Christine Diamondopoulis, director of High Wycombe's Rape Crisis centre, said this year's withdrawal of funds to her branch had actually come after an increase in demand. "It has become more and more of an uphill struggle to get funding", she said. "Yet demand has gone up, and in terms of the people using the centre, there's room for expansion".

After last year's funding, the centre had employed a specialist to help Asian women in the area, and now they have no idea where her salary will come from.

If Rape Crisis centres were to close, victims would have to turn to mental health clinics or their local council for help, both of which lack the expertise and experience of the charity.

Some centres were given only a few weeks' notice by the Government that funding would not be available, leaving them no time to find an alternative, and forcing them to make redundancies. The National Council for Voluntary Organisations  said the curtailing of the Victim Fund was a "serious breach of the mutual fair play rules between government and charities".

Campaigners also pointed out that the conviction rate for rape cases has been falling sharply. In 1985, the conviction rate was 25 per cent, but in 2006 it was down to 5.3 per cent.

A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said the fund was "not established to substitute for local long-term core funding" and maintained that those who accepted last year's money knew it was only on an annual basis. "We have been extremely clear that funding was only for one year."

Sophie, 20: 'A travesty to lose this service'

Sophie was 20 when the abuse of her early childhood started to affect her everyday life. At work and in closed spaces she started to suffer from more and more extreme panic attacks.

"I really wasn't coping at all", she said. "I was afraid to go outside and be in enclosed rooms. I couldn't work for six months."

Because the sexual abuse she suffered had happened so long ago, the perpetrator was dead and the police could not help.

Unable to afford counselling, Sophie turned to her GP for help. "He didn't understand", she said. "He gave me the impression I just had an overactive imagination as a child. It didn't help that he was a man." Her friends tried to help, but they were too closely involved: "They were supportive but they had their own feelings and their own perspectives, and that got in the way."

So when Sophie decided to ring , she was desperate for help. "I phoned the helpline and they put me in touch with one of their counsellors. They were all women, and so supportive and understanding. I got counselling for nearly two years from them, and if they hadn't been there I would have just gone to a mental hospital, I couldn't have afforded it privately. The centre helps to work through your feelings and not just treat the symptoms."

Now the centre that was so crucial in helping Sophie on the road to recovery faces closure. "It would be a travesty to lose such a valuable service", says Sophie. "Rape Crisis saved my life and I wonder if the Government really cares about women like me."