UN backs Rape Crisis

The Women's Resource Centre's Darlene Corry welcomes international recognition, at UN level, that th

The United Nations has recently made its judgement on how well (or not) the UK Government is eliminating discrimination against women and promoting women’s equality. The CEDAW committee has been critical of the UK on a number of counts.

    These include:
  • The funding crisis facing women’s organisations working on violence against women
  • The closure of rape crisis centres
  • Threats to women-only services
  • Gender neutral policies
  • Prevalence of violence against women in the UK

CEDAW has urged the UK Government to provide increased and sustained funding; protect women-only services; conduct an impact assessment of commissioning on the funding of women’s organisations; increase provision of support and counselling services for victims of violence; and develop a unified strategy to eliminate violence against women and girls, with the financial backing needed.

We’re really pleased that there is international recognition, at UN level, that the financial situation facing Rape Crisis centres is unacceptable. This comes at a crucial time in the UK campaign, with an open-letter sent to the Prime Minister on Friday 1st August calling on him to end the crisis. Supporters from many different fields and walks of life have signed up to the letter to Gordon Brown, which is calling for a sustainable funding strategy for Rape Crisis Centres and an integrated Violence against Women strategy.

Rape Crisis centres are one of the few sources of specialist support for survivors, and they provide essential services for women who have been assaulted recently or in the past. In 1984 there were 68 Rape Crisis centres – today there are just 38 affiliated centres.

Research published in March 2008 by the Women’s Resource Centre and Rape Crisis (England and Wales) found that Rape Crisis centres are facing a severe financial crisis. Nine centres have closed in the last five years; 69 per cent of centres identified that their funding is unsustainable; and 79 per cent of grants received in 2006-07 were for one year or less.

The £1m emergency government funding announced in March, while very welcome, is simply not enough. It has halted the imminent closure of eight Rape Crisis centres for six months, but will not address the underlying lack of sustainability of the sector and the situation for groups remains dire. Securing funding continues to be a relentless and constant challenge for Rape Crisis centres, and when services are closed due to lack of funding, the greatest impact is felt by service users:

“We received feedback from users that they feel the carpet has been pulled from under them, as they had spent years trying to find an organisation that met their needs and could be trusted.” (Rape Crisis centre quoted in The Crisis in Rape Crisis, 2008)

Unless this issue of sustainable funding is addressed now, more Rape Crisis centres will be in financial crisis by April 2009. How many more centres of vital, specialist, life-saving support is the government willing to lose? Piecemeal, one-off funding is not enough for the Government to meet its obligations under the Gender Equality Duty or international conventions like CEDAW, or its moral obligations to provide appropriate support to women survivors of violence, to help them rebuild their lives.

There is a clear solution for the Government – look to Scotland, where there is a Violence against Women strategy, with ring-fenced funding for all forms of violence against women. A template for such a strategy has recently been developed by the End Violence against Women campaign. All that’s really needed is the political will to make it happen across the UK.

Darlene Corry, Policy Officer, Women’s Resource Centre