The Government has today (11th June 2020) announced it has brokered a new deal to allow some of the most vulnerable victims of crime to access specialist support websites, including Rape Crisis England & Wales (rapecrisis.org.uk), free of charge.
The UK’s major telecoms companies have agreed their customers’ mobile phone data won’t be used up if they’re seeking information and support online.
Zero-rating these websites is the latest in a series of commitments from the telecoms industry to support vulnerable people during the pandemic. It comes at a time when some charities are reporting significant increases in visits to their websites.
Instructions to stay at home as much as possible may have been a major cause of anxiety for some victims while social distancing measures mean it is harder for organisations to offer face-to-face support.
To support this vital support remaining available mobile network operators EE, Vodafone, O2, Three, Sky Mobile, Virgin Media, Tesco Mobile and giffgaff have agreed that their customers will not incur data charges when accessing support and information on a number of specialist websites, including Rape Crisis England & Wales (RCEW), Women's Aid, Imkaan and others.
The RCEW website offers a Live Chat emotional support service, as well as important information, self-help resources and details of local and national Rape Crisis phone, email and text services.
Katie Russell, national spokesperson for Rape Crisis England & Wales, said:
"Throughout this pandemic, many victims and survivors of child sexual abuse, rape and all forms of sexual violence have been telling us how especially difficult they have been finding the current circumstances.
Anxiety levels have been high for many, some have found PTSD and other trauma symptoms have been exacerbated, many have been unable to access the support networks or practise the self-care routines they have developed for themselves.
Whether they have been isolated at home with an abuser, with people who don't know about the sexual violence or abuse they've been through in the past, or with children and others in homes where it is difficult to ensure privacy, accessing the specialist support services Rape Crisis and others have continued to provide has been challenging for many survivors.
For those without work or on reduced pay, access difficulties have of course been increased by financial concerns and constraints. We know not all survivors have wifi at home, while many will want to seek support while they are out of the home for privacy reasons. Many rely on limited mobile data to stay connected and access services.
Any measure that improves victims' and survivors' access to the support they need, want and deserve, which specialist charities like RCEW and its member Centres are continuing to provide, is very positive and gratefully received."
The Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales Dame Vera Baird QC said:
"This is something that I have called for and I am pleased that the Ministry of Justice and the mobile network operators have responded and worked together to make it happen.
No one should be denied access to these important sites because of data restrictions. This move will allow even more victims – especially those who may be struggling to use traditional contact methods during the lockdown – to access the help and support they need, and I hope that it becomes a permanent arrangement."