The Home Affairs Select Committee has invited evidence on violence against women and girls to inform development of its future programme of work. We submitted a response based on our work with over 27,000 women and children a year:
- Across all our services, demand has almost always been higher than we can meet. This last year during multiple lockdowns and with the closure of many other services, however, we have seen a shadow pandemic of VAWG and despite huge efforts of our staff and emergency funding from the Government, we are simply unable to respond to the level of women’s needs.
- Solace runs an advice line for survivors of domestic abuse, sexual violence and any other form of VAWG, taking calls directly from survivors and as part of the pan-London Ascent Advice and Counselling and Ascent Plus partnership (Ascent). We saw a 117% increase in calls to our advice line in March this year compared to last year. The calls we have been receiving throughout the pandemic, echoed by other organisations in the Ascent Advice and Counselling partnership, are often from women in greater distress and with higher needs, including an increase in suicidal ideation and complex mental health needs.
- We are also seeing the impact of the failures in the criminal justice system on survivors’ mental health and emotional wellbeing. Even before the pandemic, our waiting list for the North London Rape Crisis Centre and for our London borough counselling and therapeutic services are more often closed than open for referrals. As soon as they open, the waiting lists fill up again immediately.
- The average length between the offence and a charge was three years in 2018-19, with up to another year for the case to go to trial. There is now reported to be a backlog of 58,000 Crown Court cases, having a huge impact on survivors’ mental health. The Government must urgently invest in increasing court capacity, more staff and adequate sitting days, as recommended by the Bar Council and Law Society.
- We are deeply concerned about the cumulative impact of multiple lockdowns on survivors’ mental health; problematic substance use; risk of street homelessness and other survival strategies which might include prostitution, and/ or self-harm and suicide. There is a gap in services to support survivors of VAWG who also have complex or more serious mental health conditions and we are finding that services we refer women to because they have higher needs than most services can accommodate are being referred back to us, including from statutory mental health services.
- The Department of Health and Social Care should review the extent to which mental services are meeting the needs of survivors and the sustainability of funding for VAWG services to provide counselling and therapeutic services.