The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has announced a £40m funding boost for specialist support services to help victims of rape and domestic abuse.
This comes after charities reported a 200% increase in calls and people accessing webchat services since the first lockdown.
The MoJ said the new investment will allow support organisations to recruit more staff, keep helplines open for longer and adapt to remote counselling where necessary.
While £16m will fund the recruitment of more independent sexual violence and domestic abuse advisers across the country. They provide emotional and practical support for victims, while guiding them through the criminal justice process which many can find daunting.
A sexual violence victim who worked with the charity SafeLine and wished to remain anonymous explained the important role her Independent Sexual Violence Adviser played in her life:
‘I honestly could not have gotten through this whole process without my ISVA, she just got me. She understood what I was going through and she knew how I needed to be told things and handled.
‘I remember her telling me to keep breathing and when I was in court, I could hear her breathing too and it reminded me that I was not alone. My ISVA never compromised on their aim to put me first.
‘I would trust her with my life and I think if anyone is going through something similar, then they won’t go far wrong in getting the support required.’
A male victim who also wished to remain anonymous and is supported by Breaking the Silence, said:
‘It was only after I could no longer bear the flashbacks that I finally decided to seek help. My initial fears and qualms about getting support were carefully managed, and I was eased into it.
‘Although therapy brought out feelings of anger and hurt, the pain associated with the trauma gradually started to recede.
‘I met other men who had been through similar experiences, they helped me through my sense of isolation as I realised I wasn’t the only victim in my community.
‘There were many challenges to overcome and I continue to receive support, but I’m now in a new relationship and the flashbacks have been eradicated almost entirely.’
The £40m includes £20.7 million for local, community-based sexual violence and domestic abuse services, helping to reduce the amount of time survivors have to wait for support.
Male-specific services will see a 60% funding increase following a significant increase in demand for support from men and boys.
MoJ said £16 million will be used to recruit more independent sexual violence and domestic abuse advisers, increasing their numbers by around 400 meaning more victims of all ages can access this vital support.
As well as £2 million for smaller specialist organisations helping BAME, LGBTQ+ or disabled victims and £1.3 million for remote and online services allowing more victims to access support while at home.
While £800k of this will go to Finding Legal Options for Women Survivors (FLOWS), a digital tool that helps victims of domestic abuse to apply for emergency protection from the courts.
Neil Henderson, chair and co-founder of the Male Survivors Partnership said: ‘The Male Survivors Partnership applauds the government for providing much-needed, additional funding for specialist services who support victims of sexual violence and domestic abuse.
‘For those men, women and children living with the impacts of sexual and domestic violence, the impact of Covid-19 has been devastating and will be long-lasting; this timely increase in funding will enable all specialist agencies to better respond to the needs of victims and survivors.
‘We also welcome and fully support the launch of a government sexual violence awareness campaign aimed at helping more victims and survivors access critical support.
‘High-quality, specialist support is available for men, women and children affected by sexual violence throughout England and Wales, but many victims and survivors don’t know how to access it.
‘This campaign will hopefully change that and help enable more people to access the support they need to cope and recover from the abuse.’
Katie Russell, national spokesperson for Rape Crisis England and Wales said: ‘As the extremely challenging conditions of the last ten months have exacerbated isolation, anxiety and complex physical, mental and emotional health issues for sexual violence and abuse victims and survivors, we’ve inevitably seen demand for our specialist services increase even further.
‘This new contribution towards our ongoing efforts to fulfil victims’ and survivors’ unmet needs is vital and very gratefully received, as is the Government’s recognition of our frontline work as essential.
‘We’re pleased too that the Government’s new campaign will echo and amplify our consistent message to those living with the impacts of all forms of sexual violence and abuse: you are not alone, we are still here for you.
‘A new government advertising campaign, #ItStillMatters, also launched today.
‘The campaign seeks to raise awareness of sexual violence services and ensure victims of rape and sexual abuse know where to get help, encouraging them to take the often difficult step of seeking support for the first time.’
Safeguarding minister Victoria Atkins said: ‘Sexual violence can devastate lives and it is important that people are aware that if they or somebody they know is suffering from this, they can leave their home to access support services.
‘We have invested millions to make sure vital services including helplines remain available to victims and if anyone is in immediate danger they should call 999.
‘We also want to hear from the public about violence against women and girls and have recently launched a national survey about these crimes. I want to encourage anyone with views on this topic to take part. Their voices need to be heard.’
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