UK rape crisis centres forced to turn away victims as need rises and cash runs out

Rape crisis centres that provide support and counselling to victims are being forced to shut their waiting lists across the country because a lack of funding means they can no longer meet the demand.

Staff at centres from Scotland to Somerset have described waiting lists as long as 18 months for access to counselling, therapy and advocacy services, with some deciding to close lists altogether.

About 14,000 people are waiting for a service at one of these accredited rape crisis centres, Rape Crisis England and Wales told the Observer. These centres provide therapy and counselling and are generally funded through a mixture of national and local government money alongside grant and trust funding.

Edinburgh Rape Crisis, one of Scotland’s largest, closed its waiting lists for adults and survivors in the criminal justice system in December when the length of wait exceeded 18 months.

“We closed our lists because that is an unacceptable waiting time,” said Mridul Wadhwa, the centre’s director. “Closing is a painful decision. One of the key reasons is to manage the wellbeing, safety and sustainability of the organisation and team; we must be able to care for survivors even while they are waiting.

“We don’t have the capacity to do this effectively and therefore we chose to close our waiting lists.”

One in four women in the UK have been raped or sexually assaulted as an adult, according to Rape Crisis. But conviction rates remain low, with just one in every 100 cases recorded by police in 2021 ending in a conviction. In 2022, it was revealed that survivors of sexual violence in England and Wales face the longest-ever wait for justice, with cases taking an average of nine months to complete.

Romy Rehfeld, manager of Rape and Sexual Abuse Service Highland, which had the highest waiting times in Scotland last year, said: “It weighs very heavily on you. People reach out at a point of crisis when other coping mechanisms are no longer working; they don’t reach out thinking: ‘In a year’s time I might be in crisis and need some support’.”

West Mercia Rape and Sexual Abuse Support Centre temporarily closed its waiting lists in 2021 when wait times exceeded two years. Now CEO Jocelyn Anderson fears it may need to do so again.

“All caseloads are over capacity and we’ve already cut the therapy service to the bone,” she said. “We’re starting the new financial year with a significant shortfall; if we cannot raise additional funding, we will lose staff, close the list again and clients will suffer.”

Sarah Cotton, a counsellor at Bradford Rape Crisis, said women having an initial meeting at the centre were told they would probably wait a year to begin counselling.

“We’re increasingly having to rely on freelance ‘bank’ counsellors, which has an impact on what we can offer,” said Cotton. “We’re always managing waiting lists and managing expectations – you become more of a firefighter than a therapist.”

In Somerset and Avon, more than 1,000 people are currently waiting for support. “We haven’t closed our list but we’ve really thought about it and we’re at the point where it feels almost unethical to have a list of that length,” said CEO Claire Bloor. “We’re at pandemic levels of demand without the same uplifts in funding.

“Not investing in these services is a false economy – when we can’t provide support, people end up in acute mental health services or even taking their own lives.”

Jayne Butler, CEO of Rape Crisis England and Wales, said long-term, sustainable funding for specialist support and advocacy services was “more urgently needed than ever”.

“For many victims and survivors, reaching out for help is a huge step, one taken with extreme trepidation and difficulty – to make that step and then be told you are unable to access support is devastating. It leaves survivors feeling as if they have nowhere to turn.”

Sandy Brindley, CEO of Rape Crisis Scotland, said the situation was “heartbreaking” and that funding must be delivered to protect jobs and safeguard support.

“Survivors must feel able to contact their local rape crisis centre if they’re in need of support. We’d urge any survivor who is thinking about reaching out to do so,” Brindley said.

Information and support for anyone affected by rape or sexual abuse issues is available from the following organisations. In the UK, Rape Crisis offers support on 0808 802 9999 in England and Wales, 0808 801 0302 in Scotland, or 0800 0246 991 in Northern Ireland. In the US, Rainn offers support on 800-656-4673. In Australia, support is available at 1800Respect (1800 737 732). Other international helplines can be found at


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