Sex abuse victims ‘must get specialist support’
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The Victims and Prisoners Bill has been introduced into Parliament. The government states that the Bill will introduce measures to better serve victims and the public though improving victims’ experiences of the criminal justice system. One of the measures the Bill intends to introduce is to ‘help victims have confidence that the right support is available and that, if they report a crime, the criminal justice system will treat them in a way they should rightly expect’.
Through our work in supporting those who have suffered sexual abuse through civil and CICA claims, we often meet our clients during or shortly after the criminal case has concluded. Sadly, throughout our team we have seen numerous examples where the process itself has re-traumatised our clients. Once the criminal matter is concluded, it can often be difficult for survivors of abuse to access support. They are not always told what help is available or where they can find it.
Of further concern is that existing services and charities offering vital help to those who have given evidence as a survivor of sexual abuse are receiving ever increasing numbers of referrals and many are overwhelmed with the number of people seeking their help.
In reporting sexual abuse or assault, the survivor is taking a courageous step which will require them to discuss and relive their trauma. Despite this, a common motivation is to seek justice and to prevent the assailant from hurting anyone else. We have heard many stories of survivors struggling with their mental health as a consequence of supporting a prosecution and giving evidence, and of feeling simply cast adrift once the criminal case is concluded. For example, we are aware of survivors being told not to access counselling until after the criminal trial or not to seek legal advice. It is common for our clients to tell us they regret reporting the matter in the first place as the impact for them personally has been devastating.
Campaigners have now sent an open letter with 150 signatories to the government, including Rape Crisis and Refuge, which calls for fully funded support to be included in the upcoming bill. It is clear that promising support to those reporting crimes is only meaningful where there is a clear plan as to how such support will be made readily available to those that need it. This means making sure there is guaranteed funding, adequate levels of specialist providers available to deliver the right support to those who need it and to ensure that survivors are consistently signposted on how to access the support easily and quickly. In short, without fully funded support being included in the bill there is a risk that the government will be making promises it cannot deliver on.