Megan is a survivor of rape. After the incident, Megan was left traumatised and relied on support services. However she is unhappy with the way her case was dealt with. With failed police communication, Megan found out the result of her court case through a tabloid newspaper. She was also not allowed her support worker inside the courtroom where the trial took place because it took place in an embassy. Megan wants to challenge and tackle the stigma surrounding survivors of rape. She also highlights the importance of women’s services and urges the government to stop cutting funds to the sector as women services provide vital and lifesaving support for women.
Focus on Policy
What is the government’s policy towards sexual violence?
Violence against women is a serious human rights issue. Women and girls are at a high risk of sexual assault and rape. Steps to prevent sexual violence and to support its survivors are vital. 1 in 5 women are victims of sexual violence. Each year 85,000 women are raped in England and Wales alone and nearly half a million adults are sexually assaulted. In 2014-2015, 30% of female rape victims were under 16 years of age and 25% were 14 or younger.
Support for survivors to rebuild their lives is vital. This often includes counselling, legal advice, mental health services and sexual assault support services. Women’s services are experiencing an increasing demand, and the number of rapes recorded by police are on the rise; the number of which have doubled in the past four years while the percentage of allegations resulting in conviction have fallen. However despite the sustained increasing demand, women’s organisations and specialist rape crisis organisations are chronically underfunded.
The UK has failed to meet recommendations of the Istanbul Convention of establishing one Rape Crisis centre for every 200,000 women in the population. Most women in the UK do not have access to a Rape Crisis centre. The government should increase efforts to support victims and increased funding to services that help women.
What is the issue with this approach?
Sexual violence is a serious issue and is likely to have lasting traumatic effects on survivors and their families. The government must increase its support services to aide and support survivors for every step necessary.
The government still has not approved compulsory sex and relationships education in schools. There is widespread demand for this to be implemented from women’s organisations, but also importantly students and parents are calling out for it. There are high levels of sexual harassment in UK schools, and the high levels of sexual and domestic violence in the UK warrant teaching young people about what healthy sexual relationships look like, including teaching them how to spot abuse.
Prevention and support are two key factors that the government needs to invest in in order to help stop sexual violence and rape. This includes adequate funding for support services, education in schools, and raising awareness of sexual violence and challenging stigma.
What is the issue with cuts to women’s services?
Women services and charities provide great efforts in supporting victims of violence. Many women rely on these services for their trust and support. With cuts to women services, less people are able to seek the help they need as women services are left with a limited capacity to help victims. Women’s services not only support these women, they also do work on campaigning for victims of sexual violence, create awareness and tackle the stigma surrounding survivors of sexual violence and rape. Their work is vital.
The government should stop cutting the funding to this sector so that women services do not have to turn women that need help away. The government should also collaborate with these specialist services to create a national strategy to end violence against women. It must be noted that smaller specialist women’s organisations, like those for BME women with specific language or disability needs for example, are suffering disproportionately under funding cuts.
Specialist women’s organisations
Specialist women’s services are vital to supporting diverse groups of women and are lifesaving. Generic ‘catch all’ organisations supporting all survivors of violence often cannot provide the expertise and support that is needed for BME women and women with multiple needs.
More about specialist women’s organisations from the WRC website below (http://thewomensresourcecentre.org.uk/resources/defending-women-only-services-2/ )
Specialist services for minority groups of women
Some groups of women experience greater marginalisation and isolation, and have particular experiences as a result of intersectional discrimination. That is, as well as being female, they also suffer additional discrimination on one or more fronts, for example: racism, homophobia, disablism, and poverty.
Women-only services develop to meet need, so those services which are led by and for specific communities of women (such as BAMER, lesbian, bisexual, older and younger women, lone mothers, mental health survivors etc.) are crucial. These women-only services are often able to reach women who would not otherwise engage with services, either in public or third sectors (including general women’s organisations).
As with women-only services generally, women from minority groups want to access services run by women from their own, or similar, backgrounds as they will have a better understanding of their experiences and issues, and greater empathy than people who do not share their backgrounds. Such specialist services offer therapeutic support, counselling, peer groups and many services in languages other than English, given within a sensitive framework and a safe environment.
Organisations led by, and for, minority women are also necessary in addressing social exclusion. They enable integration through empowering and building the confidence of their service users, and by helping women who are often on the margins of communities to access opportunities that many other people take for granted.
Megan has written an excerpt about Safe Space Bristol – a group she is working with to help survivors:
Safe Space is a survivor led support group for women who have experienced rape and sexual assault. It provides a free, open and non judgemental space for women who seek empowerment, validation and support from other survivors. As a survivor, I felt there was a real lack of survivor led support services in my city but not only that, spaces in general where women could meet and share their experiences and emotions. From speaking to survivors, I recognised there needed to be a change in the way survivors seek support, creating a more open and inclusive space for women who at any point in their lives had experienced sexual violence. I wanted to create a space where women ultimately took back control of how they recover, how they heal and how they access support. Often women feel there is a requirement to be accessing other support services in order to have professional counselling, or be in contact with the police, two factors that can be incredibly challenging and isolating for survivors who face certain barriers and who might not want to have a formal relationship with particular organisations but still want support and understanding. Safe Space is about giving survivors the time and space to work through things they may have held for a long time, allowing them to recognise and internalise their pain and hopefully move forward in a supportive and understanding environment. In a city where twenty women are raped every day, where we have the lowest conviction rate in the UK for rape and sexual assault cases and where the average waiting time for professional counselling is four to six months, now more than ever we need more Safe Spaces.
Safe Space. 245 likes · 15 talking about this. Safe Space is a free, independent sexual violence support group created by survivors for survivors.
Rape Crisis (2015) Rape Crisis celebrates International Day for Elimination of Violence Against Women despite challenges & uncertainty, http://rapecrisis.org.uk/news/rape-crisis-celebrates-international-day-for-elimination-of-