NCPS | Recognising the value and contribution of the specialist…

In 2011, the UK Government estimated that each adult rape costs over £96,000 in terms of criminal justice processes, health services, and financial costs. It did not include personal or emotional costs (Govt. response to Stern Review 2011).

In 2014, the NSPCC completed a similar exercise looking at the estimated costs of child sexual abuse recognising this cost as over £135,500 per child. These figures, to my knowledge have not been updated since.

So why start a blog with government costs? Why is it even important? It is important because it reflects how the work that the specialist sexual violence sector deliver is underfunded, undervalued, under commissioned, and oversubscribed.

This week has seen Nexus (a specialist sexual violence in Northern Ireland) have their funding from the Department of Health cut, which means the closure of services to survivors. Last month Coventry Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre closed their waiting list as funding from the local authority was cut.

West Mercia Rape & Sexual Abuse Support Centre (WMRSASC), where I am CEO, had funding from the Ministry of Justice cut by 47% - we are still trying to raise funds to mitigate this but may well have to close our waiting lists as well.

That alone speaks to the underfunding, but Nexus have over 800 people on their waiting list and 300 people in service; Coventry have over 500 clients waiting and over 300in service as do WMRSASC. Between us, that means that there are over 1800 clients who have experienced some form of rape, sexual assault, violence, harassment, or exploitation waiting for support. Many of these will be children and young people.

If we just look at the figures and assume that everyone waiting is an adult (they aren’t - but just go with me on this), the cost of the waiting list alone would be (as at 2011) £172,800,000m. Between us, over 900 people in service would equate to £86,400,000m and I can guarantee that the funding received in comparison to the governments own (lowest) cost estimate is a pittance.

Funding is a constant struggle, often short term with many conditions – the levels of scrutiny that charities must go through would cripple many small businesses.

We are often the first port of call for commissioners to cut because there is still no KPI or requirement for the funding of support services for survivors. Despite the focus on Violence Against Women & Girls (VAWG) that is mooted, this does not translate into funding or responsibility for providing service for survivors of sexual violence.

As I write, it is the third anniversary of the rape and murder of Sarah Everard. A public outcry ensued, we must do better said the Police and government and yet here we are, all still scrabbling for funding, facing closures.

The principles of outcome-based commissioning should be to engage with specialist services and let them decide how best to respond to what is needed. Nexus have highlighted that they have many sessions that people do not attend for, and that this has been used as a factor in determining a cut to their funding. Anyone who knows anything about trauma responses would know that there will be many ‘no shows’ because it is hard; it takes a huge amount of courage for some to even book a session, let alone come back week after week and talk about their innermost feelings and trauma.

Our work is long term – often working with a lifetime of abuse, and it can be the difference between life and death for some. That’s not an exaggeration: it is feedback that all our services receive regularly. We work with complex, enduring trauma - sometimes generational. We work with parents, families, and other agencies. It is never a ‘one size fits all’ service: we are adaptable to client need; we are specialists in our field. But it is an unpopular field, and one that is still surrounded in myths and stereotypes.

People find sexual violence difficult to discuss because if you acknowledge the scale and scope of sexual violence, it can be overwhelming. You might be a survivor yourself, and you also have to acknowledge that people you know will be perpetrators.

During the pandemic, perpetrators had unfettered access to partners and children. We know that the average adult survivor will take between 18 months and two years to seek support, so all of our services are facing increased demand. It should be a source of shame for commissioners and elected members that survivors are waiting for support and that the specialist sexual violence sector is so poorly funded that we are having to close lists. All statutory agencies refer into us because of the specialist, long term support; we take self-referrals; we respond to identified need.

The constant battle for funding is soul-destroying, and my heart goes out not only to the CEOs and teams at both Nexus and CRASAC but to all other centres who are facing such difficult decisions and having to highlight how survivors are being failed through lack of funding. The specialist sexual violence sector and all the survivors who use our services deserve so much better.

Our heartfelt thanks and gratitude for this important article go to Jocelyn Anderson, CEO at West Mercia Rape & Sexual Abuse Support Centre, and NCPS Ambassador.

Jocelyn has been specialising in sexual violence and abuse since 2002 and has held the post of CEO at West Mercia Rape & Sexual Abuse Support Centre (WMRSASC) since 2004. Jocelyn is a qualified Counsellor (MSc) and experienced Consultative Supervisor (PG Diploma) having vast experience of direct one to one support of survivors, provision of case and clinical supervision for staff and other professionals (including Social Workers, Police and Law consultants).

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