This article will discuss matters relating to sexual assault.
Last week Harvey Weinstein was sentenced for sexual assault. He will most likely spend the rest of his life in prison – serving justice for the appalling crimes he has committed going back over decades in Hollywood.
For the survivors, this verdict will no doubt be a huge relief. However, the crimes Weinstein committed will live on in the memory of those he abused.
Evidence shows that sexual violence has a lasting and profound impact on mental health. In the UK in 2017, 1 in 10 survivors of rape or sexual abuse attempted suicide.
Mental health support for survivors of sexual violence should not have to be a discussion
The Liberal Democrats have always championed mental health support: in the last Parliament, we made huge strides in these areas – working with charities to push for training for mental health first aid in the workplace, better waiting times for those suffering from eating disorders, and amendments to the Mental Capacity Act.
Mental health support for survivors of sexual violence should not have to be a discussion.
And yet Rape Crisis centres across the country are being forced to turn away survivors because they do not have the capacity or resources.
Centres are struggling to cope with demand: survivors are being put on waiting lists which can be over 12 months long.
Turning survivors away after they’ve had the courage to come forward can leave them feeling alone, isolated and that their experience has been dismissed.
It should not be this way. Survivors should be able to come forward and feel that they will be fully supported.
Only 15% of those who experience sexual violence report it to the police – a hugely depressing fact. Survivors who take the huge step of reporting their experience are then having to face the additional challenges of low conviction rates and a lack of support services. The process of reliving the trauma, in order to provide the best possible evidence for the police, is hugely stressful and can retraumatize survivors. This often leads to an even greater need for mental health support.
In the age of #MeToo, we need a Government who can listen to survivors and those on the frontline provision of these services
The Government has a duty of care.
In 2012 they signed the Istanbul Convention. The Convention obliges the state to take measures to prevent violence against women, protect its victims and prosecute the perpetrators.
Failure to do so is the responsibility of the state.
It is time they enshrine the Istanbul Convention in law.
Ratifying and implementing the Convention would help ensure there is a minimum standard of funding and support for victims and survivors. According to the convention, these should be at least 150 Rape Crisis Centres in England and Wales. Currently, there are 41.
In the age of #MeToo, we need a Government who can listen to survivors and those on the frontline provision of these services.
Justice for survivors is just one side of the coin – we cannot ask, or expect, survivors of sexual violence to come forward if we are unable to provide them with the proper support.