Thousands of callers fail to get through on rape helpline

Nearly 10,000 calls to a helpline for rape victims went unanswered last year due to a lack of resources, according to Rape Crisis Scotland.

A new report by the charity, which runs the helpline, also says that 1,150 people seeking help had attempted to take their own lives after a sexual attack.

Such was the demand for help that rape crisis centres struggled to cope, with some even forced to close their waiting lists at times.

On a typical day, over one thousand survivors of sexual violence are waiting for specialist support, Rape Crisis Scotland said.

The charity’s annual report – due to be published on 10 December – says that 5,750 people received support from 17 rape crisis centres in Scotland – a rise of more than 13 per cent from the previous year.

The fact that thousands of callers could not get through to a helpline because it was busy, or closed, is a “cause for real concern,” the charity said.

Rape crisis centres in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Fife and Forth Valley, have all closed their waiting lists at points.

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The report covers the period 1 April 2018 to 31 March 2019. It says the number of victims reporting incidents to police dropped by 1.46 per cent to just over 50 per cent.

Fourteen new volunteers joined Rape Crisis Scotland’s team after attending a training programme in 2018. But more resources were needed so its helpline could respond to the volume of calls, the group said.

It added: “There were 9,884 attempts during the year to contact the helpline when it was busy or closed, and a large proportion of these – 8,446 or 85.5 per cent – did not leave a message.

“The level of unmet need, represented by a significant number of callers unable to get through, continues to be a cause for real concern, and demonstrates the crucial need for a human and responsive presence for every survivor who has taken the, often difficult, decision to get in touch.

“Statistics from rape crisis centres continue to reveal a stark picture of the profound impact sexual violence can have: 77 per cent of people receiving support reported anxiety, almost 40 per cent had experienced panic attacks, and the same proportion reported having had suicidal thoughts.”

Of 6,863 people who called the helpline in 2018-19, 6,237 had been sexually assaulted. The charity’s 17 centres in Scotland helped 5,750 people, 92 per cent of whom were women.

Rape Crisis Scotland said it welcomed Scottish Government funding in October to reduce “significant waiting lists” in some of its centres.

But the charity added: “Many centres continue to struggle to meet the demand, and a number of centres have had to take the difficult decision to close their waiting lists.”

A crowdfunding appeal called £16 for 16 days was launched this month by Rape Crisis Scotland and has so far raised over £12,000.

Commenting on the drop in people reporting alleged crimes, detective superintendent Fil Capaldi, head of the national rape task force at Police Scotland, said: “Rape and sexual offences remain under-reported crimes. We also recognise that some victims will speak to support services but may not be ready to speak to the police.

“Police Scotland will continue to work with partners including advocacy services to encourage reporting including using new methods and technologies to improve the service we provide, maximise the opportunities for evidence gathering and help minimise any ongoing trauma for victims of sexual crime. We want to encourage people to come forward and report. Time is no barrier, we will listen and we will give you a voice. ”

The Scottish Government’s equalities minister, Christina McKelvie, said: “It is vital that those who have experienced rape or sexual assault have access to the right support which is why we are investing significant funding in frontline services which do so.

“We have invested at least £25 million over the last three years to tackle all violence against women and girls. In 2019-20 we provided around £2 million to Rape Crisis Scotland and the 17 Rape Crisis Centres across Scotland, which play a vital role supporting women and children.

“We will continue to prioritise this support as well as work to identify ways to prevent such offending.”

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This story was published by the Sunday Mail on 8 December 2019.

Photo thanks to iStock/Chainarong Prasertthai

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