Rape Crisis England & Wales has a vision for a world without sexual violence where all women and girls can live safely, freely and with dignity.
In November 1974, a group of around 40 women met in London to discuss the ongoing rape crisis and what to do about it. That meeting eventually led to the establishment of the UK's first ever Rape Crisis centre in England.
Since then, an entire network of Rape Crisis centres has been established by passionate groups of women around the country. Today, Rape Crisis England & Wales (RCEW), the national organisation representing this network, has 39 member organisations in England and Wales. We recently refreshed our organisational strategy to firmly commit to working in partnership with our member organisations to end sexual violence and abuse.
RCEW is a proudly feminist organisation with a specialism in working to support women and girls. We believe that sexual violence is a cause and consequence of women's unequal status in a patriarchal society. Women are much more likely to experience sexual violence. By working to feminist principles, RCEW recognises the imbalance of power relations between men and women within society, and works to promote substantive equality.
We also know that sexual violence and abuse can, and does, impact everyone, so we also work closely with other organisations that support men and boys. RCEW and our member organisations are linked to, and form part of, the Rape Crisis movement. As a movement we continue to fight because now, even 50 years on, society and those in power are still failing women and girls.
RCEW is an autonomous organisation and a registered charity, and its legal structure is that of an association. Our member organisations are Rape Crisis centres that have completed membership agreements and been assessed under our National Service Standards. They are all independent charities and all work with women and girls to offer specialist sexual violence support services.
Where we currently stand on women-only services
Many of our member organisations have asked RCEW to articulate a position on women-only services and trans inclusion. We seek to start that here.
This is a complex issue and it weaves itself throughout our work, impacting at times on our relationship with victims and survivors, member organisations, supporters, funders, the wider public and each other.
RCEW offers two main direct services to survivors:
- This website, which provides information to survivors and their supporters. Our site is aimed at women and girls primarily and so the design, language and imagery reflects that. We do not intend to change this because the information within our site can be accessed by any survivor. We will continue to centre the experience of women and girls across this and all of our communications because this is our primary purpose.
- Our 24/7 Rape and Sexual Abuse Support Line is for all survivors over the age of 16, though we acknowledge that some people may find specialist services from other providers to be more appropriate for their needs. We actively signpost where asked (e.g. the National LGBT+ Rape and Sexual Abuse Helpline, the Men’s Helpline, and the Live Fear Free Helpline in Wales). Our 24/7 Rape and Sexual Abuse Support Line service is staffed by women.
Our member organisations and their services
Our member organisations are autonomous and we respect their independence and expertise, as well as their knowledge of how they should shape their services according to the needs of their local communities. Their membership with us focuses on their provision of specialist sexual violence services to women and girls.
In terms of women-only services, member organisations choose to define women-only services as single-gender (by which we mean services provided to anyone who identifies as a woman or that women’s services are for them), or single-sex services (by which we mean services being provided to women on the basis of biological sex).
Further, many member organisations also provide services to men and boys, whilst retaining the women-only pathway for women and girls and retaining women-only spaces. In practical terms, this can mean, for example, that men and boys are seen in a specific part of the building, off-site or on specific days.
Some of our member organisations also offer a service like this for trans and/or non-binary survivors. RCEW is clear that the make-up of this service provision is a decision for each member organisation to make for themselves. They have all acted in accordance with our membership and National Service Standards requirements around the provision of women-only space, whether services are provided on the basis of biological sex or gender identity.
As things stand, we accept all of those approaches within our membership and do not require that any of them change in order to continue to be RCEW members. We recognise the need to support member organisations as they work through their approaches to service provision.
We also recognise that our member organisations’ ability to choose how they provide services is profoundly affected by the priorities and agendas set by commissioners. As a membership body we provide support (within the limits of our knowledge) on any aspect of this as part of our support to member organisations.
All survivors of sexual violence deserve to be treated with dignity and have the right to access specialist trauma-informed services
We believe it is important that staff, trustees and volunteers at RCEW are free to hold and express a variety of viewpoints that can be communicated respectfully and constructively. This is part of our commitment to anti-oppressive practice. The same applies for our member organisations.
We intend to design a consultation that enables us to hear many voices across our network on this issue. Early in 2024, we will launch a consultation to hear from staff and volunteers (including trustees) working at RCEW and our member Rape Crisis centres to understand whether they think RCEW can remain an organisation that welcomes multiple approaches on the delivery of services that are sex-based or gender-based, or whether they wish to see us adopt and promote a particular view.
This consultation will be limited to RCEW developing further our position on the provision of women-only services for Rape Crisis member organisations. We know that there are many opinions held on this matter, but our role here is pragmatic and relates directly to the way our members deliver services. It means that the consultation will focus on this only and we won’t be using it to develop an organisational position on the validity or process of transition to another gender identity.
RCEW recognises that anyone can be subjected to sexual violence and that all survivors deserve to be treated with dignity and to receive support and care. RCEW makes a commitment to listening to the opinions of those who work and volunteer in both our own organisation and our member organisations. We do not claim to know how to reconcile positions that appear to be in opposition, but we are committed to listening and learning.
We will continue to support member organisations to deliver specialist services for all women and girls in a trauma-informed way and develop best practice that responds to the specific and wide-ranging needs of women and girls in their community, working towards our mission of ending sexual violence.