08:52, June 26 50 0 theguardian.com

2019-06-26 08:52:04
Rape crisis services are at breaking point. Do the Tory leadership candidates care?

In March I launched a petition calling on the government to sustainably fund rape support services after I was turned away from multiple rape crisis centres when I really needed help. More than 157,000 people have already signed the petition. I have met ministers at No 10, given evidence in parliament and 46 MPs have signed an early day motion on the issue. But support services remain inaccessible. What is the future prime minister going to do about it?

The crisis centres I approached over a period of eight months had been forced to close their waiting lists due to exceptionally high demand and long-term underfunding. For years, rape counselling centres have been put in the impossible position of turning women like me away, because they know that those who are already on their waiting lists may have to wait as long as 14 months before seeing a specialist counsellor.

But neither Jeremy Hunt nor Boris Johnson seems very forthcoming in addressing this issue. This is despite the fact that rape support services are inaccessible, despite the fact that the Crown Prosecution Service is facing a judicial review due to a 44% decline in the number of rape cases that have made it to court since 2014, despite the fact that only 1.7% of rape cases reported to police in England and Wales are prosecuted, and despite the fact that two women a week are killed by a partner or former partner.

The future prime minister would do well not to forget those women who have been abused, ignored and dismissed, because our anger drives and unites us. We will not stay silent.

This is not new information. Both candidates will be aware that rape support services in the local community have been at crisis point for years. In fact, my MP wrote to Jeremy Hunt in 2017 when I was still unable to get on to a rape crisis waiting list. She asked him, as the then secretary of state for health, what steps his department was taking to provide support to survivors of sexual assault in London, where services were oversubscribed. His reply? “Allocations for sexual assault referral centres have increased this year.”

He missed the point entirely. Local community services were – and still are – oversubscribed, which was the reason for the letter in the first place. His response illustrated a clear inability to understand that. So, I want to ask him again: as prime minister, what steps would he take to provide support to survivors of sexual assault when services are massively oversubscribed?

Then we come to Johnson, the man who described spending on investigations into child sex abuse as money “spaffed up the wall”. Does he have any idea how much pain his grotesque comment caused?

Rape Crisis reported an increase of 22% between 2016 and 2018 of service users aged 15 or under. An NSPCC report shows that the number of recorded sexual offences against children has been steadily increasing throughout the UK since 2012. Johnson’s comment seems to be in direct contradiction to his comments during a mayor of London question time in 2009 in which he said “rape is an odious crime and it is something that needs to be taken much more seriously, I believe, by us as a society”. Well, Mr Johnson, now is the opportunity to explain what you will do to ensure all victims of sexual violence can access support.

Though the support I have received since launching my petition has been overwhelming, and the signatures are still building, the vitriol that survivors of sexual violence face is still fiercely prevalent. I have been called a liar, I have been shamed, and my experiences have been dismissed altogether. But what has infuriated me most is the number of times I have had to repeat something so simple: I was raped and I couldn’t access the support I needed to recover. We know thousands of victims have been in the same situation for years because waiting lists have been closed for years.

That should be the only evidence this government, or any hopeful prime minister, needs to take urgent action. Not in five years’ time. Now. It is sadly unsurprising to me that Hansard shows that “rape crisis” has been spoken of 139 times since 2016 whereas “Brexit” has been recorded 22,089 times. But I refuse to accept that the latter is more important than the former. I dare anybody to argue otherwise.

Fern Champion is a campaigner fighting to enable all survivors of sexual violence to access specialist counselling services

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