Women’s groups respond to new 24/7 rape and sexual assault helpline: ‘What is the point in a helpline if there isn’t any help?’

Women’s groups respond to new 24/7 rape and sexual assault helpline: ‘What is the point in a helpline if there isn’t any help?’
The helpline will fill a ‘glaring and long-standing anomalous gap in provision’ for women

Women’s groups have cautioned that the government’s new 24/7 helpline for victims of rape and sexual assault must be easily accessible and manned by a specialist service for it to prove useful.

As part of the government’s latest strategy for tackling violence against women and girls, published Wednesday, 21 julho, a new helpline will serve as a “single source of support” to give victims immediate access to help “whenever and wherever they require it”.

No further information about when it will be established, or how it will operate, has been published so far.

Rights groups said the helpline will fill a “glaring and long-standing anomalous gap in provision”, but careful consideration must be given to the type of support it provides, and who it can help, for it to be more than a “piecemeal measure”.

As it stands, the UK government currently funds a domestic abuse helpline, helplines for stalking and online abuse, and one for male survivors of sexual violence and abuse.

As many survivors of sexual violence may never feel comfortable talking about their experiences to friends or family, Jayne Butler, CEO of Rape Crisis, said the helpline needs to offer non-judgemental, supportive listening.

“A 24/7 specialist line would mean women and girls can access vital support and information when they most need and want it, whether that be in the immediate aftermath of a traumatic experience of sexual violence or abuse, or many years later, when they want to seek support with healing from the long-term impacts," ela disse.

Both Rape Crisis and the End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAWC) are calling on the government to ensure that the helpline is run by a specialist, independent, sexual violence and abuse service provider.

“If it is run by a profit-making company, a statutory body or a provider of generic support to victims of crime or violence more generally, it will not be effective and will struggle to gain women’s trust,” Butler said.

Andrea Simon, the director of EVAWC said this is vital as it means survivors can receive long-term care.

“[Specialist services] are best placed to also deliver not only a helpline but a pathway into wraparound, trauma-informed counselling support for survivors,” she told O Independente.

Additionally, women’s groups said the helpline must be available to survivors whether they want to report the crime to the police or not.

“Crucially, this service would be there both for the minority who choose to report to the police, and the majority of victims and survivors who never do – all victims and survivors deserve this kind of social justice and access to recovery,” Butler added.

Some groups have criticised the government’s strategy as inadequate. Mandu Reid, leader of the Women’s Equality Party, described the helpline as a “piecemeal” measure to “manage violence against women rather than preventing it”.

“We know that if you are a migrant woman you may be denied help altogether. What is the point in a helpline if there isn’t any help?” Reid told O Independente.

Simon agreed, adding that it must offer specialist, tailored support for marginalised groups, such as Black and minority ethnic women, migrant women and disabled women.

As per the latest figures by the Office of National Statistics, approximately 620,000 women suffered either rape, sexual assault or an attempted sex attack in 2020, but only one in six reported the crime to the police.

The statistics also show that Black people and people of mixed ethnicity are significantly more likely to experience sexual assault, as are disabled women.

Ahead of the publication of the strategy, the government reopened a call for evidence after Sarah Everard was killed while walking home from a friend’s house in March.

Of the victims and survivors surveyed by the government, 18 per cent of respondents said they did not receive any professional support, mostly because they could not access it.

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