Scorpio Risen

A bit of “Laissez Faire”, and the Crisis of Rape Crisis Centres

Posted on: 15 August, 2007

“Rape crisis centres face their own crisis

Mary O’Hara, Wednesday August 15, 2007 – Society Guardian

The persistently low conviction rates for rape – a meagre 5.3% at last
count – are a shameful indictment of a criminal justice system that time
and again fails victims of sexual violence. But unacceptable as these
figures are, it would be difficult to dispute that supporting victims
has become more of a government priority.
Among the strides forward is the liaison work of the Stakeholder
Advisory Group on Sexual Violence and Abuse, which helps keep the issue
on the agenda. Then there is the welcome investment in sexual assault
referral centres designed to ease the distress of victims when they come
into contact with the criminal justice system. And there is the victims
fund, established to dispatch much-needed funding top-ups to local rape
crisis centres and centres for victims of abuse across England and Wales.

So why has the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) been
forced to write to ministers to voice concerns that rape crisis centres
– the frontline services to which victims turn at their most distressed
– are facing a continuing funding crisis, with some on the brink of closure?

According to NCVO and Rape Crisis England and Wales, centres face an
uncertain future not because there is no cash available, or because the
work they do is poor or unnecessary, but because of inadequate funding
procedures that work against centres.

Last month, NCVO’s chief executive Stuart Etherington wrote to the
justice minister, Maria Eagle, outlining its concerns about “serious
maladministration of the ministry’s victims fund”. The letter relayed
complaints from some centres that they were not being given sufficient
notice about funding renewal or withdrawal, leaving them unsure if they
would have to cut – or even shut – services at very short notice. A
related problem is that where grants are awarded annually, as the
victims fund is, organisations are forced into an uncertain and
time-consuming cycle of funding applications that take staff away from
doing the work they are there to do.

Another aspect threatening centres’ survival, the minister was told, is
their over-reliance on emergency, short-term funding from the victims
fund due to a lack of reliable core funding either at central or local
government level. Nicole Westmarland, chair of Rape Crisis England and
Wales, says centres are “being passed from pillar to post”, with
ministers insisting that core funding is down to local authorities when
the reality is that councils, on the whole, do not accept that it is
their duty to provide it.

“The government’s response to the situation has been that the victims
fund was not designed to replace core local funding, but the reality is
that there is very little core funding available to these groups and the
victims fund money is absolutely vital to their survival,” Etherington
wrote in the letter.

According to the organisation, this problem lies in part with the fact
that rape crisis centres frequently straddle more than one borough
(there are just two centres covering the 33 London boroughs, for
example), which means individual councils do not take responsibility for
funding. In addition, NCVO argues, because councils have no centrally
directed targets to meet on services provided by rape crisis centres,
there is little incentive to plough in cash to them.

Whatever or whoever is to blame, it is the victims and the people
working with them who are losing out.

There were 84 rape crisis centres in England and Wales in 1985. Today,
there are 32, despite there being no evidence that assaults have
dramatically declined. Meanwhile, only 18% of people who use crisis
centre services report a rape to the police, rendering the extra
resources pumped into the criminal justice arm of victim support useless
for 82% of victims.

Sustainable frontline services are essential in supporting victims but
they need to be funded effectively – and soon, before more centres
disappear.

* Mary O’Hara is a Society staff writer”

****

“Whatever or whoever is to blame, it is the victims and the people
working with them who are losing out.”

I know what and who I blame: the “laissez faire” attitudes of ministers and councils.
It is not because of those who work hard to support and help victims that rape crisis centres are facing uncertain futures, some on the brink of closure. As it has already been stated, the NCVO and Rape Crisis England and Wales state that it is due to inadequate funding procedures that work against centres, all of which could be resolved and improved if councils and ministers would drop the “laissez-faire” attitude and dealt with the matter at hand properly.

I believe that both councils and ministers have a somewhat “laissez-faire” attitude towards responsibility for funding these centres. They are both passing the buck: ministers claim that core funding should be the responsibility of councils, while – on the whole – councils do not accept this responsibility; it is not their duty, apparently. Well, either way, somebody should get off their arses and damn well do something about it.

Etherington writes that “The government’s response to the situation [of their over-reliance on emergency, short-term funding from the victims fund due to a lack of reliable core funding either at central or local government level] has been that the victims fund was not designed to replace core local funding, but the reality is that there is very little core funding available to these groups and the victims fund money is absolutely vital to their survival.” 

This will not do!  

A castaway response like that does not deal with the problem at hand! If the reality is that the core funding is not sufficient, and centres are forced to delve into the victims fund, then what does it matter that the purpose of the victims fund is not to replace the core funding, when circumstances have led to it doing precisely what it is not designed to do? To say so is not a satisfactory response – it does not solve anything. If it is detrimental to the success of rape crisis centres to use money from the victims fund which they are reliant upon due to limited and inadequate core funding, then the government’s response should be to improve the core funding. Make it more reliable, too. 

The system in which the grants are given on an annual basis is clearly not working, too: “organisations are forced into an uncertain and time-consuming cycle of funding applications that take staff away from doing the work they are there to do.” How is this system fair on the victims? How is it fair on the workers? The rape crisis centres? Clearly, in order for the level of service which is satisfactory for helping and supporting victims to be maintained, the grants should be given more frequently than on an annual basis, even if it means giving more money. Of course, that is not the only flaw in the system: the “serious maladministration of the ministry’s victim fund” is another disgrace, which leaves some centres “not being given sufficient notice about funding renewal or withdrawal, leaving them unsure if they would have to cut – or even shut – services at very short notice.” Again, this is completely unfair on those who work at the centres, and whose who depend on them for support, that is, the victims. It must be rectified. Simple as.

But, maybe, it is the level of “laissez-faire” of the local authorities which irks me most, and which I find most repellant, sickening, and disgraceful. Local authorities seem to use various excuses for not properly and reliably funding rape crisis centres, other than simply not accepting it is as their duty, but also “because councils have no centrally directed targets to meet on services provided by rape crisis centres, there is little incentive to plough in cash to them.” Hey, maybe this makes me an idealist, or naive, or something along those lines, but surely the idea of helping victims via funding the services provided by rape crisis centres should be incentive enough? Does this mean, therefore, that in order for victims of rape to get the help they damn well deserve and need, there must be some government quota or target put on their local crisis centre? Is that what we have to have in order to get some form of service from our local council? Even for victims?

Other than simply not accepting their duty to fund rape crisis centres, the fact that many rape crisis centres straddle more than one borough is used as pretty much an excuse for individual councils not to take the responbility of funding them.

Disgraceful.Of course the fact that there are just two centres for 33 London boroughs is attrocious, as is the fact that, despite there being no evidence that assaults have dramatically declined, the number of rape crisis centres across England and Wales have fallen dismally from 84 in 1985, to only 32 today. But since none of the authorities – central or local – appear to want to have any responsibilty for funding the already existing centres, it would not be practical to build more until ministers and councils get their acts together, and either or both strive to improve the current situation.

This, of course, means that the sooner central and local politicians and authorities stop washing their hands clean of this issue, and start actually getting hands on, the better – the better for funding rape crisis centres, the better for those who work there, the better for improving and building rape crisis centres, the better for distribution of rape crisis centres across England and Wales, the better – most importantly – for victims. The better quality of help and support the victims will be able to receive, and the better access. All of this will begin to improve, once central and local politicians and authorities drop the “laissez-faire” bullshit, and start taking responsibility for funding.

****

I think I’m going to email a comment somewhat similar to the above response to the Guardian, and I think that all those who are also pissed off at the situation should also email to your comments to society@guardian. co.uk. If you are writing a comment for publication, please mark clearly “for publication”

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