£40m of government funding has been announced for specialist support services helping victims of rape and domestic abuse.
The funding will allow support organisations to recruit more staff, keep helplines open for longer and adapt to remote counselling where necessary – ensuring that help is available for those who need it.
A new government advertising campaign, #ItStillMatters, has also been launched to raise awareness of sexual violence services and ensure victims of rape and sexual abuse know where to get help – encouraging them to take the difficult step of seeking support for the first time.
Justice Minister Alex Chalk said: “For many victims this pandemic has been an inescapable nightmare in which they often feel trapped and at greater risk of harm.
“Their protection remains an absolute priority and this funding, backed by our new campaign, should mean no victim is left to suffer alone,” he added.
The funding comes as charities have reported a 200% increase in calls and people accessing webchat services since the first lockdown, with some victims feeling at greater risk of harm.
£16m will fund the recruitment of more independent sexual violence and domestic abuse advisers across the country, who provide emotional and practical support for victims, while guiding them through the criminal justice process which many can find daunting.
As well as the £16m funding around 400 independent advisers, the funding includes:
- £20.7 million for local, community-based sexual violence and domestic abuse services, helping to reduce the amount of time survivors have to wait for support. Male specific services will see a 60% funding increase following a significant increase in demand for support from men and boys.
- £2 million for smaller specialist organisations helping BAME, LGBTQ+ or disabled victims.
- £1.3 million for remote and online services – allowing more victims to access support while at home. £800k of this will go to Finding Legal Options for Women Survivors (FLOWS), a digital tool that helps victims of domestic abuse to apply for emergency protection from the courts.
Safeguarding Minister Victoria Atkins said: “Sexual violence can devastate lives and it is important that people are aware that if they or somebody they know is suffering from this, they can leave their home to access support services.
“We have invested millions to make sure vital services including helplines remain available to victims and if anyone is in immediate danger they should call 999.
“We also want to hear from the public about violence against women and girls and have recently launched a national survey about these crimes. I want to encourage anyone with views on this topic to take part. Their voices need to be heard,” she added.
Meanwhile, the courts are continuing to prioritise the most serious offences to keep the public safe, with the government investing £110m on a range of emergency measures to keep the justice system moving, including opening 39 Nightingale Court rooms across the country.
The Home Office is also asking the public to share their views on violence against women and girls in a Call for Evidence that will inform the government’s upcoming strategy to tackle these crimes.
Liz Thompson, Director of External Relations, SafeLives said: “Independent domestic violence advisers play a key role in supporting victims of domestic abuse who are identified as being at high risk of serious harm or murder. They are a lifeline for survivors and their children, helping them to become safe, and rebuild their lives, and yet we know that there have not been enough Idvas to support the number of people who need them.
“This much-needed funding package can support services in the community and more people to stay safely in their own home – so welcome when we know survivors are facing unprecedented pressure,” she concluded.