Sexual violence - a letter to Gordon Brown

In the latest stage in its campaign, newstatesman.com publishes a letter to Gordon Brown signed by m

Dear Prime Minister,

As you are aware, the prevalence of sexual violence is, unfortunately, extremely high, with a conservative estimate of at least 80,000 women being raped every year.

The Government’s Sexual Violence and Abuse Action Plan acknowledges that sexual violence is a gendered crime, overwhelmingly perpetrated by men against women and children. It is both a cause and a consequence of gender inequality. The Action Plan goes on to say that “sexual violence and childhood sexual abuse are two of the most serious and damaging crimes in our society”.

The impact of sexual violence is significant and long-term, affecting physical and mental health, ability to work or study, and disruption in intimate relationships. The cost to the state of sexual violence was £8.5 billion in 2003-04, with much of this cost being lost outputs due to long-term health issues.
Rape Crisis centres provide essential holistic services to support women and girls to rebuild their lives in the aftermath of sexual violence, whether their experiences happened recently or in the past. They provide specialist, longterm support, counselling and advocacy in women-only spaces which empower survivors to take back control of their lives.

Yet most women do not have access to a Rape Crisis centre in the UK (Map of Gaps research), and Rape Crisis centres are massively under-funded, resulting in ever-growing waiting lists, staff redundancies and closure of services, with devastating impacts on women who need support.

One in five centres has closed in the last five years, and new research (The Crisis in Rape Crisis), has found that Rape Crisis centres in England and Wales have a combined annual income of just £3.5m; that 79% of grants are for one year or less, and that the majority of women and girls have to wait over 3 months to access this ‘crisis’ provision.

Many women and girls will experience sexual violence – and they deserve to have the choice to access specialist support that meets their needs. This can only happen if the sustainability of the Rape Crisis sector is urgently addressed.

We warmly welcome the recent announcement by Harriet Harman of forthcoming emergency funding of £1m for Rape Crisis centres. This money will stop the imminent closures of Rape Crisis centres this year. However, what is needed now is a firm political commitment to providing adequate, sustainable and long-term funding to Rape Crisis Centres. The Scottish model of providing ‘ring-fenced’ rape crisis funding is an excellent example, as this has not only helped to build the capacity of existing groups, but has also ensured that new centres have opened to address the geographical gaps in service provision for survivors of rape and other sexual violence.

We ask you to urge your Cabinet ministers, including the Inter-Ministerial Group on Sexual Violence, to implement a sustainable business model for the
Rape Crisis sector in the longer term, and to develop a Violence Against Women Strategy, as a matter of urgent priority. Any discussions need to include representatives from all of the Departments involved in contributing towards the emergency funding (the Department for Communities and Local
Government, Government Equalities Office, Department for Health, Home Office, Ministry of Justice, and the Cabinet Office) and representatives from
the Rape Crisis sector.

Signed by:

Vivienne Hayes, Chief Executive of the Women's Resource Centre
Dr Nicole Westmarland, Chair of Rape Crisis (England and Wales)
Sheila Coates, Director, South Essex Rape and Incest Crisis Centre (SERICC)
Liz Kelly, Director, Child and Women Abuse Studies Unit (CWASU); Chair, End Violence Against Women (EVAW)
Theresa May, Conservative MP for Maidenhead, Shadow Leader of the House of Commons and Shadow Minister for Women.
Lynne Featherstone, Liberal Democrat MP for Hornsey and Wood Green and a councillor in Haringey
Baroness Joyce Gould, Chair of the Women's National Commission
Shere Hite, researcher, author
Suzanne Moore, journalist for Mail on Sunday
Deborah Orr, journalist for The Independent
Louise Court, Editor, Cosmopolitan
Beatrix Campbell, journalist
Kira Cochrane, Women’s Editor, Guardian
Polly Toynbee, columnist, Guardian
Fay Mansell, Chair, National Federation of Women’s Institutes (NFWI)
Katherine Rake, Director, Fawcett Society
Sally Copley, Director of Policy, Research and Campaigns, YWCA England and Wales
Sue Turrell, Executive Director, WOMANKIND Worldwide
Shami Chakrabarti, Director, Liberty
Julie Bentley, Chief Executive, fpa (Family Planning Association)
Dana Hovig, Chief Executive, Marie Stopes International
Ben Hughes, Chief Executive, bassac (British Association of Settlements and Social Action Centres)
Kevin Curley, Chief Executive, National Association for Voluntary and Community Action (NAVCA)
Stephen Bubb, Chief Executive, Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (ACEVO)
Debra Allcock Tyler, Chief Executive, Directory of Social Change
Elizabeth Balgobin, Chief Executive, London Voluntary Service Council (LVSC)
Stuart Etherington, Chief Executive, NCVO (The National Council for Voluntary Organisations)
Sumanta Roy, Acting Director, Imkaan
Marcia Lewinson, Director, Women Acting in Today's Society (WAITS)
Pragna Patel, Chair, Southall Black Sisters
Parvin Ali, Chief Executive, FATIMA Women's Network
Nicola Harwin, Chief Executive, Women's Aid Federation of England
Sandra Horley, Chief Executive, Refuge
Denise Marshall, Chief Executive, Eaves Women's Aid, Poppy Project and Lilith Project
Juliette Colman, Chair, National Alliance of Womens Organisations in England (NAWO)
Emma Scott, Acting Director, Rights of Women
Stephen Hammersley, Chief Executive, Community Foundation Network
Mark Reedman, Chief Executive, Consortium of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered Voluntary and Community Organisations
Vandna Gohil, Chief Executive, Voice4Change England
Katie Curtis, National Union of Students (NUS) National Women's Officer

Click here for a full list of signatories plus check out the story of the sexual violence helpline that's set to close in three months