This month, I wrote an open letter to the leader of Glasgow City Council. In the letter (below) I laid out the case for increased funding for the Rape Crisis Centre in Glasgow. We work with a comprehensive database so I was able to show quite clearly the number of survivors we provide services to, the number of calls, texts and emails we dealt with last year, the diversity of our client group and the complexity of issues we deal with. I was also able to show that although we provide services to six local authority areas across the West of Scotland, 65% of our service user come from Glasgow city.
This letter was first published in the Student Advertiser and was then picked up by the Evening Times which published an article on Friday 16th September and, of course, asked Glasgow City Council to respond. Their response was
“Glasgow Rape Crisis Centre has a very important role in supporting those affected by sexual violence against women. Despite a huge reduction in the Council’s overall budget in recent years, we have continued to fund the centre at previous levels. The Centre is able to draw on other sources of funding and is one of the many providers supported by the Council that addresses violence against women.
“The Council remains fully committed to tackling gender based violence, abuse and exploitation.”
What wasn’t in that news article was the work we do that so often remains hidden. We’ve tried to make this work more visible by blogging about ‘A Day in the Life’ of the Centre, and by posting on our social media, but that has its restrictions. We can’t relate the experiences women bring to us because fundamental to our work is the confidentiality of our service users. I cannot make the reader feel the anger that I feel when thirteen year olds come to our centre in their school uniforms to see the support workers from our young women’s project. But I’m also glad that they are being supported by well-trained, skilled practitioners who share a body of expertise we’ve built up over the past 40 years.
What wasn’t in that article was the experiences of women we see every day: women in the asylum process who have been raped in their country of origin or in transit to the UK, who may have been trafficked, who may have been imprisoned and tortured, and who cannot even begin to work through their trauma because they are battling daily to keep their place of relative safety here in Glasgow. There was no mention of the self-harm, the suicide attempts, the poor mental health, medication and hospitalisation that women tell us about or that a major achievement for a woman may be that she can get on a bus, come into town and attend her support appointment.What the article didn’t show was the contribution from our volunteers that we recruit, train and support year on year and who almost exclusively staff our telephone helpline. In the year 2015/16 our staff and volunteers contributed over £50,000 in unpaid hours to the work of the Rape Crisis Centre.
Yes, we do bring in funds from other sources but those grants fund specific pieces of work. I have never been able to find a grant making trust that will subsidise gaps in local authority funding and no matter how much money we raise, there is always more and more work to do. We are indeed dependent on the grant we receive from Glasgow City Council even at that same level for the past 13 years. We depend on every piece of funding we get. The grant from Glasgow City Council has not increased but costs increase annually including the rent for our premises, in a Glasgow City Council building. When we first received that grant in 2003 we qualified for a concession on our rent because of our charitable status. Rent concessions for charities have been withdrawn by Glasgow City Council and we are now faced with our rent being doubled.
Staff who work with us at Glasgow Rape Crisis Centre have had no wage rise or cost of living rise in their salaries for several years nor do we expect that situation to change. Four years ago we asked support workers to reduce their hours so that we didn’t have to make anyone redundant and they agreed. Yet year on year we ask our staff and volunteers to take on more work and to raise funds to keep their centre open - and they do it.
Each member of staff, each volunteer and every one of our Board members works for us because they believe that any form of violence against women and girls is wrong. They believe that it is a fundamental human right to be able to live your life free from violence and abuse. They believe in equality and that until violence against women and girls is eradicated, there can be no true equality for women and girls.
From Glasgow Rape Crisis Centre
Dear Councillor McAveety
This year, workers, volunteers and survivors across Scotland are marking 40 years of rape crisis service provision. Glasgow Rape Crisis Centre opened for business in 1976 and we’ve been providing services to survivors and their families continuously ever since. There are times when it’s been tough going, when we thought we might not make it through another year, or when we thought that we might be sued for challenging a decision by the then Home Secretary Jack Straw, to let convicted rapist Mike Tyson fight in Scotland. But we’ve hung on, often by our fingernails.
Glasgow Rape Crisis Centre was run solely by volunteers from 1976 until 1991. Fifteen years of services to survivors provided by women who worked for free because we were committed to the issue. Not because we had a ‘tea and sympathy’ approach. Absolutely not. We did it because it was our fundamental political belief that violence against women and girls was a human rights issue, an equality issue, a health issue, and a criminal justice issue. We did it because we needed to fight for recognition that violence against women and girls was wrong, and no matter what the circumstances, it was never, ever acceptable or justified. Our working model was, and remains, simple. We believe women, we don’t tell them what to do and we don’t judge them. We don’t need to know if a woman had been drinking, what she was wearing, how she was behaving, or whether or not she’s involved in prostitution. It’s not relevant. What is relevant is that when a woman comes to us for support because she had been raped, she gets support.
Glasgow Rape Crisis Centre is the largest and the busiest rape crisis centre in Scotland. Forty years on we have an office in Glasgow City Centre which employs 19 workers providing services to Glasgow, Renfrewshire, East Renfrewshire, East Dunbartonshire, West Dunbartonshire and Inverclyde. It’s an area with a population of almost 1.2 million, which is around 24% of the total population of the country. We have the most diverse communities in Scotland within our area and also a significant number of communities that rank highest in the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation. We don’t equate poverty with sexual violence but women who are living in poverty find it much more difficult to access services, often because they may not be able to afford bus or train fares to come for their support appointments.
In 2015/16 Glasgow Rape Crisis Centre processed 11,383 support and advocacy calls, texts and emails. We also provided medium/long term support to 886 survivors and had 768 one-off contacts. We know this is the tip of the iceberg but because of the size of our premises we can’t physically fit any more survivors into the space we have and our lack of funds prevent us moving to bigger offices. Over 65% of our service users come from Glasgow yet we receive only 12% of our funding from Glasgow City Council. In fact, we have received exactly the same amount of funding from the council since 2003/04. That’s a 13-year standstill budget while the demand on our services has far outstripped our ability to respond.
So why does it make so much sense to adequately fund our services? Well, we know that sexual violence has a significant impact on the physical and mental health of survivors. Study after study shows that survivors who experience sexual violence while in education are more likely to drop out with massive economic potential lost. We know that there is a direct link between sexual violence and poor mental health, addictions and self-injury and the rocketing cost of mental health and addiction services has been well recorded. We know the cost to the criminal justice system, child protection services, as well as the social cost. And we know that even the most conservative of estimates show that only 10% of serious sexual offences are ever reported to the police.
Rape Crisis Centres are successful. Women tell us so every day. They say:
“I was in a bad place when I came here. I am so much better. I have learned to cope and learned to be proud of who I am. I felt so comfortable coming here and without this I would still be in a mess. I feel so grateful for all the help and will never forget it.”
“I feel well again – I am no longer haunted by my past and I feel I am now free from the trauma I went through. I feel stronger and able to really look after myself. I feel so positive and excited about my future.”
“I can’t express enough how this service helped me through a difficult time. The support was so person centred, I never felt scared or pressured into decisions about my situation. This service surpassed any expectations I had and I truly have seen life changing differences to my perceptions of myself.”
Sexual violence has been clearly identified as part of the spectrum of gender based violence. It is experienced disproportionately by women and perpetrated predominantly by men. Sexual violence and the ever present threat of it, means that the lives of women and girls are affected daily. Women and girls experience sexual violence as a continuum from cat-calls to sexual harassment to groping to sexual assault to rape and murder. Not only is it ever present in women’s lives but women and girls learn, at a very early stage in their lives, ways to cope with and manage the inevitable abuses they experience. Services that can provide early intervention when women and girls experience these abuses are crucial. But Rape Crisis Centres not only offer support services; we also deliver a programme of prevention work in schools and youth projects, challenging the attitudes that condone and collude with our highly sexualised and pornified culture. This is a critical part of our work that we cannot afford to lose, and we dare not underestimate its value.
Rape Crisis Centres are effective. Not only are we effective, but we are very cost-effective. That’s ‘cost effective’ not ‘cheap’. We are very skilled at making every penny count.
We work to a very high standard; in fact, all RCCs in Scotland fully comply with a set of National Service Standards that cover Centres across Scotland, England and Wales. We have acquired a body of expertise over 40 years and we continue to build upon it. The training all of our workers must undertake is not only intensive but is also now accredited. We are no ‘tea and sympathy’ outfit. Hell no! We are a body of highly skilled, trained experts in the field of sexual violence and abuse and we should be recognised as such.
The strength of rape crisis centres is a direct reflection of the expertise we have built up over the past 40 years. The work we have done, and continue to do with survivors of all forms of gender based violence, abuse and exploitation and our strong gendered analysis of the root causes and consequences of it, gives us a greater understanding of the issue than mainstream or generic services.
Models of working we have developed that are survivor centred, trauma sensitive and our understanding of the continuum of violence against women and girls are hugely effective and often adopted into mainstream practice.
We should be funded to deliver our services to optimum levels because without it, survivors of sexual violence are being treated less equally, are being considered less worthy of quality services that can give them back the chance to fully participate in their work, their education, with their families and in all other parts of their lives. Smaller, locally based services with high levels of expertise find themselves shackled by lack of resources, short term funding, workers carrying heavy caseloads and management with little time to develop the expertise in ”fundingspeak” that is expected by grant making bodies and possessed by large national charities who often have whole departments dedicated to funding, fundraising, evaluating and reporting.
Sexual violence has a huge impact on every aspect of the lives of survivors and on the lives of their families. Services should reflect the needs of survivors and our responsibility to challenge the culture that persists in condoning such behaviour and often blaming the survivor for his or her own complicity in the abuse. We cannot afford to ignore this issue any longer.
Glasgow Rape Crisis Centre