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Time runs out for city rape crisis centre

Withdrawal of funding means after March it can’t afford the rent

Published on March 16th 2011.

Time runs out for city rape crisis centre

THE night before Alice left her husband, he’d accused her of having an affair. He dragged her out of the house by her ankles – leaving her children trying to pull her back in. He smashed her phone so she couldn’t call for help and refused to let the children go to bed.

We’ve offered the service for absolute peanuts and without that money we’ll have nowhere to go. We’ll never close, simply because we can’t. But I have to think about staff, about their livelihoods

When, finally, he decided to go upstairs she stayed in the living room to lock up. She stuffed documents in a schoolbag so she could prove her identity and when she left to take her two children to school the following day, she never returned.

“Fight or flight,” she says it was. She was simply too scared to go back.

What it was was the end of a 20- year ordeal. Since she was 23, her boyfriend then husband had repeatedly raped her (twice on the night his father died) systematically bullied and abused her. She began to worry about the effect it was having on her children.

When it became clear she was struggling mentally to cope, Victim Support recommended RASA. As well as housing a funded independent sexual advisor, the Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre offers one-to-one counselling.

Alice had been offered counselling before but it was in a group of 15 or 16 women. She couldn’t, or wouldn’t, tell these intimate stories to a room full of strangers. “I’d been that demoralised, had no self-confidence. How was I supposed to tell a room full of women about what he’d done?”

Alice’s counsellor, Liz Pascoe, says the difference RASA offers is the level of experience. “I speak to women who say ‘I had a counsellor but they didn’t get it’ or ‘they just talked about themselves’. But most of the details, I’ve heard them before.”

A session at RASA is often the first time the victims have talked about their ordeal. Having someone who isn’t shocked and knows what they’re talking about is a huge step in their recovery.

Although a sexual abuse referral centre, does exist in the city, RASA says it looks after “the 95 per cent of people who aren’t reporting to the police”, pointing out that in 2007, 32 people were charged with rape in Liverpool, but in the same year, RASA had 320 new cases.

The RASA centre is a stone’s throw from Liverpool One. Fewer than 200 yards from the hustle and bustle of shoppers and night-time revellers, women share their darkest secrets. In a quiet room they tell their story. Some believe it has saved their lives, others that it has saved them from a life of crime and violence.

In three weeks time, this room could be gone. The £60,000 worth of funding RASA receives from Liverpool City Council is being withdrawn. Without it, they can’t afford to pay the rent.

RASA counselling room

Jo Wood, the finance and development coordinator, received the email in mid-February saying their vital cash lifeline would end on 31st March.

It isn’t the first time they have faced an uncertain future. The service was originally given a three year contract in 2008 when Citysafe joined with the region’s Primary Care Trusts to offer rape and sexual abuse referral services.

On March 31 last year, that contract was terminated as funding began to be squeezed. Despite being told in Liverpool that rape crisis services would be put out to tender, nothing was forthcoming.

At the eleventh hour, Jo rang Citysafe. They were given a three-month contract, a stay of execution, to cover the gap. Each quarter until now, they’ve had the same conversation. Now, with under three weeks until the cut-off date, the centre is forced with considering redundancy and almost certainly moving out of their city centre base if news of a tender isn’t forthcoming.

“Wirral Council published their tender document in December with the contract being issued for February,” says Jo. “I’m checking every day for Liverpool’s so I’m not sure how they’re going to turn it round in less than a month.”

Rasa worked with 522 victims last year. The counselling service, largely run by volunteers, was provided in Liverpool free of charge. What has angered Jo is that there is no comprehension of the scope of the work they do.

“The counselling service we offered last year, at no cost to the council, was worth £350,000. We received £60,000. That funding helped us keep the offices open, provide rooms for advice; when victims need to cry, shout and rant they have somewhere to go.

“We’ve offered the service for absolute peanuts and without that money we’ll have nowhere to go. We’ll never close, simply because we can’t. But I have to think about staff, about their livelihoods. Redundancy notices are a possibility. Honestly? I have no idea what will happen by April 1”.

With a background in business, Jo Wood can’t be accused of not having enough nous to run the charity like an SME. She’s applied to the Victim’s Fund to provide support for the 50 people currently on their waiting list.

“As soon as we open a new centre, the books are full. The dream is to become independent and not rely on the local authority at all.”

A council spokesman said: “We are committed to helping support victims of sexual violence, and despite a reduction in the amount of funding received from the Home Office, we will be commissioning an advisory service for the next financial year.Organisations including the Rape and Sexual Abuse Centre will be invited to tender for it.”

Yet Jo worries if this year they’re hit by the same procrastination they faced in 2010 it will end up costing tax-payers more.

“We drafted the cost of one middle-of-the-road case, the cost to the State of a victim who doesn’t receive counselling or support. Over a five year period we estimated that one individual would cost £250,000.

“Many of the people we see are criminalised or on the verge of it. Often they’re not in employment or are struggling to remain so, there’s a high reliance on drugs and alcohol and the issues that come with that. It’s a false economy to cut the funding for an organisation like ours.”

Petitions and fundraisers have been organised to try to save the service. Jo is trying to focus on lobbying the council to remind them of their significance.

For counsellor Liz Pascoe, the difference they make is stark. “It sounds bad to say but I know I’ve saved lives”.

For Alice, the facility has had a more sustained effect. “At the beginning there were more dark days. I’d lie down and want to die. They’re getting rarer. I have someone to talk to.

“Even when I was on the waiting list, I had someone to talk to. Being able to come in here and sometimes just rant I’d leave and feel better. I feel I can carry on. RASA helps break the cycle. I can change jobs if I want to, move house.

“I can support my children, sympathise with them. After years of being told I was worth nothing, now I feel I can do what I want to do.”

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HeatherMarch 15th 2011.

Absolutely shocking that they don't realise the true value of this service. Good luck RASA.

No Jose WayMarch 15th 2011.

Only women innit? They can always ring Liverpool Direct and talk to one of the untrained operators there, as they occasionally do.

AnonymousMarch 16th 2011.

If a woman OR a Man calls liverpool direct there details will be passed on to a trained crisis worker who will call them back (24hrs) who work for the sexual offence referal center. Who DON'T just take police referals. Anyone get get access to care and support via the sexual offence referal service with or without polcie support

ObserverMarch 16th 2011.

If I'd been raped, the last people I would ring is Liverpool Direct. It's bad enough trying to get the bins emptied.

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