Sat, Dec 22, 2012 - Page 9 News List

Rape Crisis centers breaking the silence

Forty years ago, no one revealed or discussed sexual violence in Britain. However, the pioneering women of Rape Crisis changed all that. What more can be done?

By Kira Cochrane  /  The Guardian, LONDON

This is “the biggest lot of bollocks I’ve ever heard,” one said.

The woman was accused of being a willing party, of not being upset enough, was asked if she had ever “been on the game” and how many sexual partners she had had.

In its wake, it was no surprise to Eggleston and Coates in 1984 that most women did not want to report. When they supported those who complained, “the police could be quite antagonistic,” Coates says.

However, that began to change. These days, they often work closely with the police, and have had good experiences.

However, “I think it’s still a bit luck of the draw,” Coates says. “There are some officers who are fantastic, others who are not.”

That was demonstrated in recent cases involving the Metropolitan Police’s Sapphire unit, supposedly the gold standard for rape investigation. In September, Detective Constable Ryan Coleman-Farrow pleaded guilty to 13 counts of misconduct after failing to investigate 10 rape cases and three sexual assaults. They included a 96-year-old woman allegedly raped by her son. Last week, in a separate case, the force paid out £15,000 (US$24,400) to a woman who reported a rape in 2005, when she was 15, after it was claimed a Sapphire officer had failed to investigate properly.

CRISIS

Still, if women did not feel confident reporting to the police, Eggleston says, the numbers would be even lower at that stage. What can be more problematic is the journey to court, which can easily take two years, “and we’re saying unless that changes, the attrition rate will never change.”

SERICC supported a 13-year-old girl last year, who reported her case to the police in September. It was not until Christmas Day that they finally interviewed her.

Four years ago, Rape Crisis England and Wales faced a crisis of its own; 30 affiliated centers had closed since 1984, down from 68 to 38 in all. Of those left, 69 percent did not have sustainable funding. To the surprise of Eggleston and Coates, that picture changed when the coalition government came to power. Both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats promised up to 15 new Rape Crisis centers before the last general election and by the end of January they will have delivered. That figure does not include the three new centers that have opened in London; and three-year funding has also been set up to make all the existing centers sustainable.

In those terms, the picture has improved. However, the national organization, Rape Crisis England and Wales, is seriously underfunded, as is the national helpline, which runs on a voluntary basis. There is no money for the very basics you would expect, such as the ability to expand the hours the phone lines stay open, reduce the waiting lists for counseling sessions and reduce the postcode lottery for services CSS Wales, for example, has only one affiliated center. There is certainly no funding for the campaigns they would love to run, which could target public attitudes.

In 2005, an Amnesty International poll found 26 percent of people thought a woman was partially or totally responsible for being raped if she was wearing revealing clothing; 22 percent held the same view if a woman had had many sexual partners. In 2010, a survey by Haven, a service for people who have been raped, found a third of women polled thought a victim bore some responsibility if they had gone to their attacker’s house for a drink.

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