Just to continue on the theme of No. 10 petitions that came up on the other thread, the Government has now published an official response to this one.

As you can see, the original petition called for:

“the Prime Minister to take urgent action to end the postcode lottery in violence against women support services, such as Rape Crisis Centres, to stem the tide of closures and ensure all women have access to these vital services. Every year, 3 million women in the UK are victims of gender-based violence. Specialised services are essential to support these women, yet provision is patchy and in some places there are no services at all. Map of Gaps, an End Violence Against Women and Equality and Human Rights Commission report, highlights that: – A third of local authorities in the UK have no specialised support services – Most women in the UK have no access to a Rape Crisis Centre – Less than one in ten local authorities have specialist services for ethnic minority women We call on the government to take a more strategic approach to ending all forms of violence against women, including a commitment to long-term funding of specialised violence against women services.”

And the response? More blah about the amount the Government has invested in Sexual Assault Referral Centres aka SARCs, which we can all acknowledge is a good thing, but which is also most definitely not the same as investing in Rape Crisis centres. SARCs only help women in the immediate aftermath of a rape or sexual assault, whereas Rape Crisis provides “a service to women with historic experiences of sexual violence, many of them victims of childhood sexual abuse. Sixty one per cent of Rape Crisis clients have been raped or sexually assaulted three or more years prior to accessing their services.”

And while we’re on the subject of the postcode lottery in violence against women support services, I would just point out yet again that there is still no SARC in the East of England. So if you’re unfortunate enough to be the victim of a sexual assault in Norfolk, Suffolk etc, then what?

Luckily we’ve still got some Rape Crisis Centres here, but for how much longer? Cambridge Rape Crisis for instance, “can currently only afford to open two hours a week.”

It’s absolutely fucking shameful.

But back to the response. The Government also says that it acknowledges:

“that rape crisis centres and other support services continue to face significant challenges, and we are working closely with them to identify what more can be done to assist in increasing their capacity and stability.  A stakeholder working group (which includes members of Rape Crisis) has been set up to look specifically at this issue, and will report to Ministers shortly.  We have already implemented some of their earlier recommendations.

In addition, the Minister for Women, Harriet Harman, announced in March 2008 a special fund of £1 million to assist rape crisis centres at risk of closure.  This money has now been distributed.  The Government has also ensured that grant awards to rape crisis centres for 2007/8 were renewed in 2008/9.”

Let’s hope the grant awards are bigger than the £683 Cambs RC received after applying for a grant of £11,000!

“In relation to taking a more strategic approach to ending violence against women, the Government has already developed a number of linked national action plans on a variety of issues.   These include rape and other forms of sexual violence, domestic violence, prostitution and human trafficking.  Each of these areas of work identifies a number of joined-up work streams that are being pursued across Government departments.

The Government is committed to ensuring that women and girls are not subject to any form of violence, and it is currently taking a fresh look at our work in this area specifically through the prism of gender.  We are developing a cross-government consultation on violence against women.   Further information on this will be made available shortly.”

Action plans, work streams and consultations are welcome, and hopefully something good will eventually come out of them, but all this takes time. In the meantime, while all this bureaucratic yackety yackety yack is going on, Rape Crisis Centres up and down the country are once again in serious danger of going under. They don’t have time to wait for the outcome of yet more policy meetings, yet more working groups, and yet more ministerial bumbling around, they need funding, and they need that funding now.

And not just short-term emergency funding, but funding that’s long-term and that enables them not only to cope with their current workloads, but which enables them to plan ahead, secure in the knowledge that they’ll be there for years to come to help future victims of these heinous crimes.

So come on Harriet et al, time to put your money where your mouth is. Don’t just talk about your commitment to violence against women services, do something about it: before even more Rape Crisis centres are forced to close, and before even more Rape Crisis workers are forced to remortgage their homes to pay for your neglect.