Friday, 9 October 2009

We need 24-hour, local, services for rape survivors here in Brighton

I'm delighted that yesterday Brighton & Hove City Council agreed to conduct an investigation into local support services for those who have been raped or seriously sexually assaulted, with a view to examining whether the council can improve them.

Ever since hearing that there are no round-the-clock local services for rape survivors I have been concerned, and last night I asked fellow councillors to set up a scrutiny panel to examine provision for victims in the city.

It will also examine an idea adopted as Green Party policy last month: a Government-funded National Rape and Sexual Assault Hotline, to provide round-the-clock, seven day a week access to immediate support and referral for victims of sexual crimes, directing callers to local services where possible.

Rape and sexual assault figures in this city are shocking: according to Home Office statistics, more than five per cent of women and men are raped, and 21% of women and 11% of men are seriously sexually assaulted, at some point in their lives.

Here in Brighton, accurate figures just aren't available, but they are thought to be even higher.

And it destroys lives: not just those of the survivors and victims, but often those of their family and friends too.

Sussex Police provides a relatively good service in dealing with rape cases and supporting victims (at least here in Brighton) - but it isn't adequate at all.

It's thought that some 40 per cent of women who are raped tell no-one at all: usually because, apart from the police (often the last people a traumatised rape victim want to see) there is no-one independent and sympathetic to tell.

It's a national scandal that anyone who has experienced such a horrific crime should be left feeling unable to even tell someone else what has happened.

But the reality is that there is patchy provision of support services in the UK, and many of those who do seek support face a culture of disbelief and delay when they do.

And here is Brighton and Hove we're not well served.

Since the closure of Brighton Rape Crisis Project in 2002 survivors and victims of rape and serious sexual assault in the city have been able to access only limited specialist support services for a few hours a week, including those provided by The Survivors Network.

There is no round-the-clock support available for victims of sexual crimes beyond that operated by Sussex Police. While Sussex Police provide a good service in dealing with reports of rape and supporting victims, many sexual crimes go unreported, and many victims do not choose to go to the authorities.

Conducting a review of local services can only be a good thing, and should mean Brighton and Hove Council - putting its money where its mouth is - does everything it can to enhance the support give to survivors of rape.

On the National Rape Crisis hotline, Greens adopted this as party policy at our recent party conference in Hove.

The aim is to ensure people get help as and when they need it – and no one is left to suffer a postcode lottery of rape services.

That the Tories and Labour have backed our calls shows just how much support there is for introducing this national hotline. I hope the Government is listening.

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