Sexual violence services are being cut. #ItsNotOk
Thursday, February 4, 2016
Sisters Uncut was formed by a group of survivors and workers in the field of domestic violence to protest against the government’s devastating cuts to domestic violence services. We know that domestic violence is just one of the types of violence faced by women and non binary people in the UK today. We also recognise that many survivors of domestic violence will have experienced sexual violence as one of the components of the abuse that that they faced.
This week is Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence Awareness Week, and we’re standing in solidarity with our Sisters who have survived sexual violence and abuse, and who are also being put at risk by lack of funding to vital support services.
Specialist services are vital for women and non binary people who have experienced sexual assault or violence. Supporting those who have been through violating experiencing is a highly specialised task, not something that can be done by a well meaning generic worker – in fact, social care and NHS professionals have often been found to get it very wrong.
Specialist organisations include Rape Crisis centres, which offer immediate support to victims of sexual violence as well as ongoing support, advocacy and counselling; therapeutic or supportive services for adults who experienced sexual abuse as a child; helplines who may offer the first safe avenue for a survivor to begin to disclose their experiences; and services who support particularly vulnerable victims of sexual violence and abuse such as people with learning difficulties.
These services are vital, but they have never been consistently and properly funded by the government, instead relying on occasional grants and charitable donations. They are now at huge risk of not being able to provide the services that victims so desperately need.
According to research carried out by The Guardian last year, lack of funding meant that up to 10,000 victims/survivors of sexual violence or abuse were waiting more than a year for specialist counselling – and thousands were unable to access any support at all. Rape Crisis centres – often an essential source of support both in the immediate aftermath of sexual violence and for those still in recovery years after the event(s) – are struggling desperately for funding, and are unsure whether they will be able to keep their doors open beyond the next 6 months.
There was further despair in the sector last year as a government fund designed to help specialist charities cope with the large numbers of survivors of childhood abuse coming forward following the high profile media cases appeared to be given to charities that fit in with a particular government agenda rather than those best placed to help.
Whilst local authorities still accept a responsibility to fund specialist domestic violence services (for now), funding for sexual violence and abuse charities is not usually commissioned by councils, with charities instead relying on council grants rather than contracts, which are even more unpredictable and have been slashed by austerity.
More problems were caused when the government devolved control of The Victims Fund, a pot of money to fund services to support victims of crime, to Police and Crime Commissioners, who now make local decisions about where the money goes without oversight from central government. They did this without ring-fencing (setting side) any funds specifically for victims of violence against women, washing their hands of their responsibilities as they have done with so much else.
Cuts to domestic violence services kill women, and cuts to the other services which support victims of male violence can completely destroy lives. 44% of women in the UK have experienced some kind of male violence, and 50% of trans folk have experienced sexual violence.
Survivors of all types of male violence deserve fully funded, specialist services, when and where they need them. The government is abandoning survivors. #ItsNotOk.
If you want to talk to someone about an experience of sexual violence or abuse, you can contact the National Rape Crisis Helpline or find a list of support organisations here.