Interview with Sarah Learmouth – CRASAC

I interviewed Sarah Learmouth (CRASAC) for the women’s issue of this month’s Labour Briefing.  Also please see the EDM as well. Thank-you Sarah for spending time in answering my questions. In solidarity and sisterhood.

 1. Can you tell me what work CRASAC does?

CRASAC stands for Coventry Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre. We are an independent charity and are also a member of the Rape Crisis Network. CRASAC  provides a combination of a telephone helpline, counselling and advocacy services to help victims who want to report to the Criminal Justice System. We work with women, men and children from the age of 11 and support approximately 3,000 victims per year, of whom around 25% are children. CRASAC also trains 20 volunteers per year, a significant number of whom are survivors of rape or abuse, many of whom, after working with us as volunteers, go on to paid work for the first time following their attack. A key aim is also to locally raise awareness of the myths and stereotypes around rape and abuse via presentations and press articles,  to challenge the lack of understanding around the impact of sexual violence and to let local people know what support is available to them and how to access it.

 

2. Funding is a major problem regarding Rape Crisis centres, how has this impacted on your organisation?

CRASAC are one of the lucky centres, we have a 4 year contract with our local authority and PCT which covers around a third of our basic costs. Unfortunately the remainder comes from various grants and funding applications that are for as little as 6 to 12 months duration. Our staff works with the constant knowledge that if we are not able to obtain new funding, they will be made redundant. The loss of funds would impact on all parts of our service, for example in our counselling service waiting lists can reduce or increase rapidly from a 6 week wait, to 6
 months or more if we lose a counsellor. The remaining two thirds of our income is from 4 other sources and we are
constantly applying for funding where we can. There is no funding to pay for a fundraiser.

 

3. There is an EDM in Parliament about the funding crisis, what responses have you received?

From bloggers, social networks, supporters i.e. the general public, an unfailingly positive response. Many people have written to their MP’s to request that they sign but to date only 50 MP’s have signed up, including only 1 Conservative MP, despite the fact that their stated intention is to give Rape Crisis Centres stable 3 year funding.
We have had MP’s responses to constituents forwarded to us confirming they fully support our work, but will not sign up either because the EDM does not have the amount we need detailed or because they believe it will only have a limited effect. Unfortunately they do not suggest alternative methods for us to raise this issue.

 

 4. I was reading the key findings in the report, The Crisis in Rape  Crisis, and they make grim reading: Eight organisations had no funding secured for 2008 and 69% were ‘unsustainable’ in the future. What demands you are making on the government regarding funding?

The Rape Crisis Network (England and Wales) have been in discussions with the Government for years requesting just £50,000 per Rape Crisis Centre per  year, as yet with no success. We believe there is some confusion over
who should take on responsibility for funding roles. The danger is that Central Government believe this funding is a local government issue and  vice versa. To put the amount in context, the Home Office puts the cost of
EACH RAPE at £76,000. A significant problem is that funding that Central Government states is
for sexual violence is not ring-fenced and Local Strategic Partnerships have a number of issues to deal with. Sometimes people wrongly believe that funding domestic violence is funding sexual violence, they are
related in that in approximately 80% of domestic violence cases there is sexual violence, but this is not the case for victims of sexual violence. Only 25% of our clients have been raped or abused within a domestic violence setting and CRASAC only deals with sexual violence victims.

5. Rape Crisis centres are a vital lifeline to many women who have been raped, and your continuing work is of immense value for women to get practical help and support, a safe place where women are listened to. And especially as you manage on a shoestring budget and rely on volunteers. Shamefully there are  50% less rape crisis centres now than in 1985.  How do you perceive the future?

In the current economic climate and with the lack of real, sustained funding commitment from Westminster the immediate, future will be very tough. It is of real concern that as funding opportunities constrict,
there will be more voluntary sector agencies applying for the same pots of money.

 The moral argument for our services has been won, our excellent performance and value for money statistics are clearly illustrated with central and local government, we believe that to change things we must talk in terms of obligations and rights based on a combination of basic human rights, the Gender Equality Duty and the UN’s Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women. To this end we
are working with the Women’s Resource Centre in London on research designed to give women’s voluntary organizations a blueprint for successfully influencing their local priorities.

6. Fawcett Society recently published research that highlighted that it is  a postcode lottery when it comes to rape victims accessing justice. What are your views on that?

The facts speak for themselves. 90% of Rape Crisis clients don’t report their rape, of the 10% that do there is an 80% attrition rate, leaving a small minority left in the Criminal Justice System. Our conviction rate is appalling, the worst in Europe with the exception of Southern Ireland. Rape should be treated with the same professionalism as other serious violent crimes, it is a national scandal that rape victims face a culture of disbelief and delayed responses that can lead to a withdrawal from the Criminal Justice System.

7. Do you believe that the public perception and attitudes  towards rape (including the police and the courts) have worsened; are the myths and stereotypes surrounding sexual violence still widespread?

The long answer – the Fawcett Society released a report in May 2009 on women and the Criminal Justice System, ‘Engendering Justice – from Policy to Practice’. It found that the system is institutionally sexist and Baroness Jean Corston commented, “Evidence has demonstrated that throughout the criminal justice system female offenders, female victims of crime and women workers continue to face discrimination in a system
 designed for men by men.”

“Attitudes and expectations as to how a ‘proper victim’ should behave continue to shape the criminal justice system response. Women who are victims of violence, particularly sexual violence are often made to
 feel like the perpetrator rather than the victim. There have been some commendable policy developments, particularly by the Crown Prosecution Service, but practices and attitudes continue to act as a roadblock to
effective implementation.”

The short answer – one in four people still believe that a woman is partially responsible for being raped if she is drunk and one in three think she is partially responsible if she flirted heavily with the manbeforehand.
(http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/documents/violence-against-women-poll) Our own experience within Coventry is that we see the prevalence of these myths and stereotypes impacting negatively on our clients on a daily basis.

 8. What practical support can we show in supporting and highlighting
 your campaign around funding?

1.       Write to your MP expressing your astonishment that Rape Crisis Centres are in such dire financial straits and asking them to confirm their support by signing our EDM.

 2.       Write to your local councillor expressing a similar view and asking what specialized support there is locally for victims of sexual violence.
 

3.       Ask the chair of your local Crime Disorder Reduction Partnership (CDRP) for a Gender Impact Assessment on their lack of funding to victims of sexual violence.

 4.       Copy each of the letters to all of your local papers.

5.       If you are looking for a charity to raise money for then get in touch with your local Rape Crisis Centre (www.rapecrisis.org.uk) and they will be delighted to have your support.

6.       Join their Facebook and Twitter groups and retweet or pass on their news and information – remember they have no funds for marketing or PR.

That’s probably enough for now!

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