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Sexual violence and abuse services are not being prioritised by politicians

Ciara Bergman, CEO at Rape Crisis England & Wales, comments:

Not having to think about today’s sexual violence and abuse epidemic is a privilege – and one that isn’t afforded to millions of women and children. In England and Wales, 6.5 million women have been raped or sexually assaulted since the age of 16, and one in six children have been sexually abused. Despite the appalling (and appallingly persistent) prevalence, harm and cost of sexual violence and abuse in the UK, the proportionate, sustained resourcing of specialist services to support victims and survivors doesn’t seem to be on anyone’s political agenda.

Access to trauma-informed services can be life-changing and life-saving. Recent research by Agenda shows that women who have been sexually abused by a partner are seven times more likely to have attempted suicide in the past year than those who haven’t. The impacts of sexual abuse are understood to require life-long care, as is recognised by the latest NHS strategy: “the damage and devastation caused are enormous, extremely varied and often lifelong” and there must therefore be a “lifelong pathway of care”.

It's vital for survivors to have timely access to independent, trauma-informed and specialist support services, like those provided by Rape Crisis centres. Yet all too often, when survivors seek this support, they face a lengthy wait. Chronically underfunded and oversubscribed, Rape Crisis centres currently have about 14,000 survivors on their waitlists. Some centres have even been forced to close their waitlists, due to growing demand and insecure funding.

About ten years ago, the Ministry of Justice created the Rape and Sexual Abuse Support Fund, a precious ring-fenced fund solely for sexual violence and abuse services. In a highly precarious funding landscape, this offered Rape Crisis services a certain stability – helping them to keep their lights on and their doors open. However, there has been no official commitment to maintaining the Rape and Sexual Abuse Support Fund past March 2025 – at which point specialist services will face a funding cliff edge. In May this year, one of our Rape Crisis centres announced its closure, due to these funding uncertainties. Across England and Wales, many more centres are now considering their futures.

How – when the need for these services is so high – can this be an afterthought?

In 2022-2023, over 88,000 people accessed Rape Crisis services, including almost 40,000 new referrals. In its first year, the 24/7 Rape and Sexual Abuse Support Line connected about 56,000 calls and 20,000 webchats, and last year 1.5 million people visited the Rape Crisis England & Wales website. The demand for specialist services far exceeds the available funding.

All political parties must make tackling sexual violence and abuse a priority. And to do so, any new government must commit to recommissioning the Rape and Sexual Abuse Support Fund beyond 2025. As the only ring-fenced government funding for sexual violence and abuse services, it is a core part of the funding for Rape Crisis centres across England and Wales.

It’s a reasonable ask – especially since long-term resourcing for specialist, trauma-informed services is cost-saving. According to Home Office data, child rape and sexual abuse alone cost the government £10.1 billion per year. At the current rate, continuing the Rape and Sexual Abuse Fund would cost £46.8 million over three years. It would also, in part, support the recommendation of the groundbreaking final IICSA report: to give all child victims and survivors of sexual violence and abuse timely access to fully funded, specialist therapeutic support.

Political parties who truly wish to end sexual violence and abuse, and help victims and survivors to rebuild their lives, must commit to this funding as an absolute minimum. Survivors are already paying the price. The longer politicians deprioritise and ignore the need for specialist sexual violence and abuse services, the more dire the situation will become.

Add your voice to amplify our calls for all political parties to commit to recommissioning the Rape and Sexual Abuse Support Fund.