Photo: Jacob King/PA
Rape crisis centers that provide support and counseling to victims are being forced to close waiting lists across the country as lack of funding means they cannot meet demand.
Staff at centers from Scotland to Somerset have described waiting lists of up to 18 months for access to advice, treatment and advocacy services, with some choosing to close their lists altogether.
Around 14,000 people are waiting for help at one of these accredited rape crisis centres, Rape Crisis England and Wales said. Observer. These centers provide therapy and counseling and are generally funded by national and local government money, as well as grants and trust funds.
The Edinburgh Rape Crisis, one of Scotland’s biggest crises, shut down waiting lists for adults and victims in the criminal justice system in December when waiting times exceeded 18 months.
“We have closed our letters because this is an unacceptable waiting time,” said Mridul Wadhwa, the center’s director. “Closing is a painful decision. One of the key reasons is to manage the well-being, safety and sustainability of the organization and team; we must be able to care for survivors, even while they are waiting.
“We are unable to do this effectively and have therefore decided to close our waiting lists.”
According to Rape Crisis, one in four women in the UK have been raped or sexually abused as adults. However, conviction rates remain low, with only one in 100 cases recorded by the police in 2021 resulting in a conviction. In 2022, it was revealed that victims of sexual violence in England and Wales have the longest wait in history for justice, with cases taking an average of nine months.
Romy Rehfeld, manager of Highland’s Rape and Sexual Abuse Service, which had the longest wait times in Scotland last year, said: “It’s weighing heavily on you. People reach out in times of crisis when other coping mechanisms no longer work; they don’t reach out with the thought: “In a year’s time I may be in crisis and need support.”
The West Mercia Rape and Sexual Abuse Support Center temporarily closed waiting lists in 2021 after waiting times exceeded two years. Now CEO Jocelyn Anderson fears it may have to be repeated.
“All cases are overflowing and we have already limited therapeutic services to the bone marrow,” she said. “We are starting the new financial year with a significant shortfall; if we fail to secure additional funding, we will lose staff, close the list again, and customers will suffer.”
Sarah Cotton, a counselor at Bradford Rape Crisis, said women who had their first appointment at the center were told they would likely wait a year to start counselling.
“Increasingly, we have to rely on independent ‘banking’ advisers, which affects what we can offer,” said Cotton. “We always manage waiting lists and expectations – you become more of a firefighter than a therapist.”
Over 1,000 people are currently waiting for support in Somerset and Avon. “We haven’t closed our list, but we’ve really thought about it and we’re at a point where it feels almost unethical to have such a long list,” said CEO Claire Bloor. “We are at a pandemic level of demand without the same funding increases.
“Not investing in these services is a false economy – when we can’t provide support, people end up in a mental health emergency or even take their own lives.”
Jayne Butler, chief executive of Rape Crisis England and Wales, said long-term, sustainable funding for specialist support and advocacy services was “needed more urgently than ever”.
“For many victims and survivors, reaching out for help is a huge step that is taken with great anxiety and difficulty – taking that step and then being told you can’t access support is devastating. It leaves survivors feeling like they have nowhere else to turn.”
Sandy Brindley, chief executive of Rape Crisis Scotland, said the situation was “heartbreaking” and that funding needed to be provided to protect jobs and provide support.
“Victims need to feel they can contact their local rape crisis center if they need support. We are appealing to any survivor who is thinking of contacting us to do so,” said Brindley.
Information and support for those affected by rape or sexual abuse is available from the following organisations. In the UK, Rape Crisis offers support on 0808 802 9999 in England and Wales, 0808 801 0302 in Scotland or 0800 0246 991 in Northern Ireland. In the US, Rainn offers support at 800-656-4673. In Australia, help is available on 1800Respect (1800 737 732). Other international helplines can be found at ibiblio.org/rcip/internl.html