Today on International Women's Day we celebrate the women who work for us, who volunteer their time, who donate their funds, who campaign on our behalf – most of all we celebrate the women who we support.
It takes great courage to ask for help, and sometimes that courage can take years to build. To pick up the phone and disclose that you have been raped can be a difficult and emotional experience, and our rape crisis team are specially trained to respond.
Imagine however that you have made this call, and we weren’t able to pick up. Or worse still, we have answered and told you our rape crisis waiting list for counselling is closed indefinitely. We could signpost you to another service, but they might also have a waiting list and you may not receive the specialist support that is so critical in cases of rape.
Fern Champion was one of these women. This time last year on International Women’s Day – she reached out to Rape Crisis for support and with waiting lists closed we were unable to help. She described this as her ‘rock bottom’, and felt that she had nowhere to turn for support.
Luckily for Fern, her employer spotted that something was wrong and fully supported her by paying for private counselling. Someone who has been raped should never count themselves lucky for accessing vital support. Now she is calling on the government to sustainably fund rape crisis centres.
Funding levels have stagnated and demand is on the rise. Reports of rape and sexual assault have risen by 20% in the last year, therefore the funds are not there to support women in crisis. Our waiting lists were closed for the majority of 2018 and remain closed now. It is unacceptable that we have to turn women away.
On a weekly basis we receive calls from women on our current waiting list who are suicidal. We have to call ambulances out to respond and this puts a huge strain on other services. We cannot ignore the effects of trauma. When you are waiting a year or eighteen months for counselling after rape, your symptoms get worse. It can have a significant physical and mental impact – and if we do not treat it, we are putting lives at risk.
When you are raped there is a sense of loss. A loss of power and control, you might lose your family, your community, your ability to work and study. You might lose your dreams, your faith in humanity – and now survivors are losing their right to recovery. It is unacceptable.
Fern’s experience is not isolated. It is the experience of women who call our rape crisis helpline every day. We need adequate funding, it needs to be a government priority – otherwise there will be more of this.
If you do just one thing to support women today, we would ask that you sign Fern Champion’s petition to call on the government for sustainable funding. We know that rape crisis support can change, and in many cases save lives.
Sign the petition here: https://bit.ly/2H4FbBz