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23 April 2008

Raped and abandoned

Try to get help when you've been raped in England and Wales and you could be waiting for days, even

By Martin Brookes

Imagine being raped and having nowhere to go for help to overcome the trauma.

When we started research for our new report, “Hard knock life: violence against women” two of our analysts set out to find what support services might be available for a victim living in east London who had experienced rape a few months before.

Armed with some background information, a phone book and the internet – and with clear heads, since they had not themselves been traumatised – our analysts searched for specialist counselling services. After 45 minutes they couldn’t find any help.

This is not uncommon: rape victims struggle to find appropriate support and routinely wait many months for counselling. Support is key to helping victims cope and go on to rebuild their lives. Many women who have been raped need specialist counselling and support to help them overcome that trauma, and this is not always available from mainstream services.

Help for rape victims is disappearing. In the last decade, the number of Rape Crisis centres in England and Wales has dwindled. There were 60 Rape Crisis centres in 1996 and now there are only 38. Of those that are left, at least half faced threats of closure last year.

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Rape Crisis centres are charities and most exist hand-to-mouth: over 80% of grants to rape crisis centres are for a period of one year or less. Without long-term funding it is hard for these charities to plan for and give counselling to women who need it.

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The government’s recent pledge of £1m for emergency funding of rape crisis charities following the New Statesman’s campaign is welcome. But it is not enough. The government needs to do more than provide stop-gap funding so that current services don’t have to close. Private donors too have a role to play.

More should be invested now in order to develop services across the country and grants should be given over several years. This could make a difference, as we hope it will in Scotland, where the government is funding new rape crisis centres and a helpline.

The Scottish Government is also funding a public awareness campaign to bring attention to the negative attitudes that affect women and particularly the victims of sexual violence. A billboard with an image of a bride and groom and the slogan: “This is not an invitation to rape me”, may help tackle the idea that it is acceptable to force a woman to have sex if you are married to her — something that one in five young men believes.

Charities play a role in changing these kinds of attitudes, preventing violence from happening in the first place and helping those women who have already experienced violence.

As long as charities in this field remain under-funded, many victims will go without the support they need. Funding from both government and private donors can make all the difference.

Martin Brookes is the Chief Executive of New Philanthropy Capital