Sarah Champion MP celebrates victory in campaign for more funding for sexual abuse services
This week the Government has agreed to a number of funding commitments and policy changes that I have been campaigning for. This is a huge victory and I want to extend my thanks to all the survivors who contributed to the campaign as their voices have had a real impact on making this a success.
Firstly, the Government announced plans to make reforms to the length of time child sexual offenders spend in prison. Adult survivors have told me they often think the length of sentence meted out to abusers is not commensurate with the lifelong impact of abuse. The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Adult Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse, which I chair, published research earlier this year showing that many survivors wait decades before they feel able to discuss their abuse. The impact of abuse is devastating: 90 per cent of survivors say their intimate relationships are negatively impacted by abuse; 89 per cent say their mental health; 72 per cent their career. I am therefore pleased that the Government pledged yesterday to extend the number of offences for child sexual abuse for which the sentence can be appealed under the Unduly Lenient Scheme. This way, all survivors of child sexual abuse can hope to have better scrutiny of the criminal justice system.
Secondly, the Government has today announced an increase in the funding for sexual violence and abuse specialist services. Our research showed that the counselling and therapy provided by these services is the single most important form of support to survivors but that despite their best efforts, specialist services are struggling to keep up with demand. Inevitably, this meant some survivors waiting months for access or having to accept limited sessions even when they wanted ongoing support. This follows another big victory in our campaign which saw a 10% uplift in funding for these services announced last year.
Thirdly, funding will be set aside for Independent Sexual Violence Advisers (ISVAs), who support survivors through the criminal justice process. The evidence suggests ISVAs deliver better criminal justice outcomes. I have fought hard for an increased attention to their service and I welcome the Government’s plans to introduce national minimum standards so that survivors in every part of the country can access this vital support.
There is still much to do: survivors’ experiences of reporting to the police is often not positive; very few cases of sexual violence and abuse end in successful prosecutions; survivors’ experiences of court are often re-traumatising; claiming compensation is needlessly arduous. The Government have been very reluctant to move in the right direction for some time and campaigners have had to battle tirelessly for every morsel of funding they have been able to win.
Yet I am encouraged that thanks to the efforts of survivors and campaigners, the tide is beginning to turn.