Guest post: “The situation is now so dire that many Rape Crisis centres have had to close their waiting lists altogether”
Fern writes about how two years of being turned away from Rape Crisis centres led her to launch her #NoSurvivorTurnedAway
Posted on: Mon 13-May-19 16:50:43
(16 comments )
This isn’t the first time I have been asked to write or talk about my experience as a victim/survivor of rape and, to be honest, the whole process of doing so is starting to feel like déjà vu.
Each time, I begin by opening a blank document and then, almost without acknowledging that I’m doing it, I immediately open a new tab and I’m scrolling Twitter. Then I’m on my phone checking WhatsApp and Instagram before finally convincing myself to return to my blank word document, but not before giving Twitter another refresh just in case I’ve missed something in the last 10 minutes.
It’s clear that I am a procrastinator, but the fact that I now seek out tasks that I’ve already been putting off for some time to use as my procrastination shows, at least in part, just how much I don’t want to do this.
I don’t want to write about my rape anymore. I don’t want to think of new ways to make it palatable or engaging in order to get people to listen to me. I don’t want to shock people with the details of what happened to me on the 18 July 2016 and I don’t want it to be what defines me. I don’t want to feel like I’m defending myself before I even begin by stating the facts of what happened; the facts, for the record, are that I was raped while travelling through Malaysia. I reported my rape to the local police and British Embassy as soon as I was safe. I extended my stay in Malaysia to help the police with their investigations even though my outbound flight was booked for the day after my rape. I then lived and worked in New Zealand for a year and spent my entire year there on a Rape Crisis waiting list. When I returned to the UK in August 2017, I approached various Rape Crisis centres over a period of eight months but was told each and every time that they could not help me because they’d had to shut their waiting lists due to lack of funding. The last time I was turned away from a Rape Crisis centre was on 8 March 2018 (International Women’s Day) and that’s when I knew that I couldn’t carry on with the way things were anymore. I crashed very suddenly through my rock bottom and became too scared even to leave the house, let alone go to work.
It had nearly been two years since my rape but that day was the first time I properly broke down and cried. To be honest, sometimes it feels like I’ve barely stopped crying since.
Fortunately for me, I trusted my head of team enough to tell her why I couldn’t come in to work and so I told her everything. She responded with kindness and compassion, which is really all I was hoping for. She then went beyond that and organised for me to see a private trauma therapist who my employer would pay for.
So, even though I don’t really want to write about my rape, or repeat myself by finding new ways to explain how impossible it was for me to access the support services I so clearly needed, I do want to fight for change. Because, really, I’m one of the lucky ones. I had an employer who could step in when the state failed me. The vast majority of victims of sexual violence do not have that.
For years Rape Crisis centres have been forced to jump through hoops that are constantly moving and bid against each other for the money they need to survive.
That’s why I waived my right to anonymity in July last year on The Victoria Derbyshire Programme on the day I gave evidence to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Sexual Violence. I gave evidence as a survivor of sexual violence who wasn’t able to access Rape Crisis services.
That’s why I became a Campaign Ambassador for Solace Women’s Aid, which offers free advice and support for women, covering a whole range of issues, as well as running North London’s Rape Crisis Centre. That’s why I spoke at the launch event of the Strategic Direction for Sexual Assault and Abuse Services, hosted by the Department of Health and Social Care, the Home Office, the Ministry of Justice, NHS England and Public Health England, again to provide an insight into my experiences as somebody who could not access crucial rape support services when I needed them most. That’s why I’ve spent the last year writing various blogs and articles in an attempt to articulate just how vital those services are.
And, perhaps most importantly, it’s why on 8 March this year I launched the #NoSurvivorTurnedAway petition. This petition calls on the government to provide proper rape support services with the long-term and sustainable funding they need so that they never have to turn a woman like me away again. Over 154,000 people have already signed, prompting Wera Hobhouse MP to table an Early Day Motion in Parliament calling on the government to enshrine in law the Istanbul Convention, as referenced in the petition, which will ensure these services are accessible. It is truly heartening to see that 40 MPs have already pledged their name to the EDM showing real cross-party support. My aim now is to get as many MPs as possible to sign the EDM and continue the push on the petition. If we reach 250,000 signatures, the petition can be delivered to the Prime Minister and we can hold parliament and the government to account.
The way that this government, and too many before it, has treated these service providers, and by extension victims and survivors of sexual violence, is deplorable. For years, Rape Crisis centres have been forced to jump through hoops that are constantly moving and bid against each other for the money they need to survive.The situation is now so dire that many have had to close their waiting lists altogether - many people currently on waiting lists could be waiting up to 14 months before seeing a counsellor.
Rape is never the victim’s fault and it is a stain of shame on this government that they continue to refuse to do everything in their power to ensure that all victims can access the specialist support that they need, the moment they ask for it.
I am so sick and tired of those in government applauding me for speaking out and encouraging me to keep going in the hope that one day, they might actually listen. I am using my story to fight with those who still cannot access those specialist rape support services, because urgent action is needed NOW, not one day.
Therefore my appeal goes directly to the Prime Minister. It was your government who pledged in its 2016 Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy that by 2020 you want to ensure that ‘every victim gets the support she needs’. Please meet with me to discuss the urgent action that is needed to make this promise a reality because, without wishing to depress you, 2020 is less than eight months away and waiting lists are still closed. I don’t want to hear any more about the funding increases your government has already implemented because clearly it’s still not working. It didn’t work for me when my local MP wrote to your ministers in September 2017 when I was still unable to get on a Rape Crisis waiting list - each minister simply referenced the spending that had already gone into these services, without acknowledging the fact that they were still inaccessible for thousands of woman.
My ask of you, the reader, is to please read, sign and share the petition in order to help us build on the momentum we’ve already gained. Write to your local MP and ask them to sign their name to the Istanbul Convention Early Day Motion so that we can get this properly debated in Parliament. You can access a template letter to send to your local MP here and check their contact details here. The change that I, and the 154,000 who have already signed the petition, are asking for does feel possible, but only if we keep pushing.
I don’t want to write about my rape anymore, but I will never stop fighting for what is right and I invite all of you to join me.
A representative from EVAW will be returning to the post on 17/05/2019 to answer some of your questions
Thank you Fern for bringing this to my attention.
I'm so sorry that you had that awful experience. And I'm really sorry it took you so long to get proper support.
I agree with everything you said. I will sign the petition and write to my MP.
I was assaulted in 2011. I was fortunate enough to have access to support.
I know that if I hadn't had that support, I would have ended my life.
I want to do more with my experience. I am at a stage where I want to use it for the better good, to help others.
I am so sorry you have had to suffer like this and I am truly in awe at how hard you have worked and are working to get this issue properly heard and acted upon.
I wish you every success and will sign the petition.
Good luck x
So sorry to hear of your awful experience Fern, thank you for sharing on MN. I’ve signed the petition.
Professionally, it breaks my heart to refer people on for post sexual violence counselling knowing they will be waiting months at best and sometimes not be seen at all. Petition signed
I read your post yesterday and found it very difficult. I have survived multiple sexual assaults and the counselling I have received was for eating disorders years later which I know are a direct consequence of the violence I have experienced. I feel utterly helpless and hopeless. Reading your experience and seeing your strength in the face of violence and almost worse, invisibility inspires me. Thank you for your work and sharing your experience and fight. This is all our fight.
Fern, I am so sorry to hear of your awful experience, both the initial trauma and the failure to receive support afterwards.
Sadly I too have experienced that awful thing, it has taken me over a decade to face up to the fact that I need support and am still traumatised by what happened. I’ve recently been in touch with a sexual assault charity and told that their waiting list for counselling is 18-24 months.
Fern, I am sorry for your experience. I am a SA survivor and understand the lack of support.
I’ve signed the petition, Fern. You’re an amazing woman.
I am a survivor of historic sexual violence, abuse and grooming. I say 'survivor' but actually I still feel like a victim.
I am on my second lot of NHS counselling. 5 years apart. It is due to end soon, because my allotted time is up. I am nowhere near ready to stop but I have to and I can then 'reapply'.
Presumably I am meant to just stop feeling suicidal whilst I'm waiting for my therapy to continue.
It's ironic that this week is 'mental health awareness' and is being promoted by the NHS, government and even the royal family. It's good to talk apparently. But who are we meant to talk to when we need specialist help for as long as we need it?
Someone close to me was SA recently. The whole experience with police etc was mind blowingly shocking.
Another thing that people just presume would work if god forbid you needed it. Disgusting in a first world country.
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Signed. This is so utterly outrageous
Rape crisis saved my life and are helping me rebuild my life
for all other survivors
Fern I have signed your petition and thank you for starting it. I'm so sorry to read about what happened to you and saddened that your attacker has not been brought to justice, that must be incredibly difficult to cope with.
I'm glad you were able to access some support courtesy of your employee and I hope it has helped you.
I hope your petition goes on to help many more women in turn
Hello to everyone that has read this powerful post and signed the petition!
My name's Rebecca and I work at the End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAW) - we have supported Fern in her incredible work calling on government to fund Rape Crisis services so that survivors of rape and sexual abuse can get specialist support.
I just wanted to say a huge thank you for your support around this important issue. If you feel able to it would be amazing if you could also share the petition on social media as we are tying to get as many signatures as possible to get government to sit up, pay attention and actually make some changes!
Sending solidarity to all those who have commented and spoken of your own, or loved ones, experiences.
The link for Fern's Petition is here, where she also posts regular updates: www.change.org/NoSurvivorTurnedAway
If you'd like more information on the campaign and the work we do at EVAW our website is here: