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Last Updated: Tuesday, 29 January 2008, 17:17 GMT
Rape support service 'in crisis'
Woman on bed
Less than 6% of reported rape cases lead to a guilty verdict
Services for rape victims in England and Wales are in crisis, with half of support centres at risk of closure, a campaign group has warned.

The Fawcett Society said fewer than one in four local authorities currently provided services for rape victims.

Of the 38 support centres that did exist, half were struggling due to a lack of funding and they needed more government support, it said.

The Home Office said it was looking at ways of expanding such services.

Conviction rate

A report by the End Violence Against Women coalition in November last year found most women in the UK had no access to a rape crisis centre and fewer than a quarter of local authorities had any sexual violence service.

The report showed the east of England, London, Northern Ireland, the north west and the south east were particularly underserved.

The government's record on rape is shameful, and this issue must now be given the priority that it deserves
Dr Katherine Rake
Fawcett Society

Among the areas with the best provision were Birmingham, Liverpool, Glasgow, Manchester and Sheffield.

The Fawcett Society has now warned that of those crisis centres that do exist, half are under threat because of lack of funding while others have waiting lists of several months.

As well as urging the government to invest in services for rape victims, the group is calling on ministers to "take immediate steps" to improve the rape conviction rate. Less than 6% of cases reported to police currently lead to a guilty verdict.

'Postcode lottery'

"The government's record on rape is shameful, and this issue must now be given the priority that it deserves," said Dr Katherine Rake, director of the Fawcett Society.

"Allowing rape crisis centres to close due to inadequate funding is a major failing by the government."

She added that "wholesale reform" was needed to give women "confidence in the system and to deliver justice to victims of rape".

Angie Conroy, policy officer for Rape Crisis England and Wales, said although she acknowledged the government was setting up more Sexual Assault Referral Centres (Sarcs), support still remained a "postcode lottery".

Women in central London and Bedfordshire had no access to rape crisis centres at all, she said.

We recognise that rape crisis centres have faced significant financial challenges in recent years and we are working closely with them to identify what more can be done
Home Office

"Let's ensure any woman in any town has a rape crisis centre to turn to and if she wants to report; let's ensure she gets a better response from local police," she added.

In a statement, the Home Office said it was "committed to improving services for victims of sexual violence".

The department had invested 10m in services for victims of sexual violence over four years, it said, with 3m to be used in practical support for rape victims this year.

"We recognise that rape crisis centres have faced significant financial challenges in recent years and we are working closely with them to identify what more can be done to assist them in increasing their capacity and stability.

"In particular we need to encourage a greater focus on tackling sexual violence and abuse at a local level," the statement said.

In addition to the current 18 Sarcs in England and Wales, 12 more were in the planning phases and a further six would receive funding, it added.



SEE ALSO
Cameron urges tougher rape laws
12 Nov 07 |  UK Politics
'Lack of help' for rape victims
28 Nov 07 |  England
Are rapists getting away with it?
31 Jan 07 |  Magazine

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