Thursday, 31 March 2011

Rape Crisis in Crisis

This post originally appeared on the Fresh Outlook:

Rape Crisis in Crisis

On Monday, the Pixel Project tweeted that 2,000 UK women are raped every week. On the same day, Scottish newspaper The Daily Record reported that, as sexual assaults and rapes go up in Glasgow, their rape crisis centre was having its funding slashed by £8,000 – a third of its total.

This is not an unusual situation. Despite the fact that the number of rapes is not going down, whilst the conviction rate is barely budging from its low percentage, rape crisis is in crisis. And as councils are making more and more funding cuts thanks to the government budget plans, organisations providing vital services for victims and survivors of rape and domestic violence are finding themselves with very little money left to continue their work.

Back in 1984, there were 84 Rape Crisis Centres. Now, there are only 38 affiliated to Rape Crisis in England and Wales. Glasgow's is the oldest running Rape Crisis Centre in Scotland, having been opened in 1976. In its history it has provided vital support to women who have been victims of rape and sexual assault, and has been actively involved in educating young men and women about violence, consent and rape. But with a third of their budget about to be slashed, they will no longer be able to provide some of the important educational work they are engaged in. And if we don't educate young people about rape, then there is little hope for a change in attitudes about violence against women and girls. Particularly as the NSPCC and Bristol University have found that 1 in 3 teenage girls experience violence from an intimate partner. With funding cuts imminent, the fight to help women, and to change attitudes is seriously compromised.

Devon Council recently hit the headlines when they proposed to slash 100% of funding to support services for women and men who have experienced domestic violence. After a lot of uproar, the funding cut was reduced to 40%. But this still means that the vital support that Devonshire domestic violence charities and services provide will be severely cut, and the lives of women and men and children are left at risk.

It is, sadly, easy to cut services that offer support and help to survivors of rape and domestic violence, men and women. After all, a lot of people refuse to even recognise or engage in the high numbers of victims and survivors. Rape and domestic violence are invisible crimes, or presented as 'her fault' or 'a crime of passion'. Charities who support victims and survivors struggle to get the public to reach into their pockets precisely because of their invisibility, and because people don't want to confront the realities of these crimes. It was famously reported in 2008 that a donkey sanctuary in Devon earned more income that year than Women's Aid, Eaves and Refuge put together. The result is that many of these services are dependent on central and council funding to survive. And, considering that the work they do to prevent rape and violence, to support victims and survivors and educate, ultimately saves money that would have been spent on police investigations and NHS bills, the centres give the council and the government a pretty good deal.

Take this statistic for an example:

The average annual income for Rape Crisis centres was £81,598, only marginally more than the cost, to the state, of one rape.

The combined annual income for Rape Crisis centres in 2006-07 was just over £3.5m. The government spent more than twice this amount on advertising and public relations each week in 2004-05.

It's easy to cut rape crisis funding. It's easy to cut domestic violence funding. In government terms, it's a small amount of money, and because people think that “it happens to other people”, the government can sneak the cuts in. But these services save people's lives. They save families and protect children. They provide vital support to women and men who otherwise are at serious risk of violence, even death. They help those who are dealing with trauma from historic abuse. Their education and prevention programmes save money for the police and the NHS in the long run.

Rape and domestic violence can happen to anyone. Every day, every night, men and women experience domestic violence and rape. All over the UK, workers and volunteers are fighting to prevent it from happening, and to help the women and men who seek support. Surely the government and the council should do everything they can to make sure that this continues. Surely the work these centres do is so-called ‘Big Society’ in action. It is not an 'easy cut'. Risking women's lives to save money should never be an option.

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