There were no cheap jibes or Flashman pops in today’s Prime Minister’s Questions.
Ed Miliband instead called for Ken Clarke’s head on a plate after the Justice Secretary’s controversial comments on the “types” of rape during a radio interview.
Mr Miliband fumed: “The Justice Secretary cannot speak for the women of this country when he makes comments like that.”
The Prime Minister dodged the question of Mr Clarke’s future and hit back on his government’s record on rape, claiming that the coalition has boosted the money available for rape victims. FactCheck investigates.
The idea of a “postcode finder” for Rape Crisis centres has been ditched by the charity Rape Crisis for England and Wales.
“It was never very helpful because there are so few around the country,” the charity said.
Instead, it offers victims a map to help them search by region – which confirms to FactCheck that the centres are few and far between.
In Devon, for example, an estimated 3,000 women are raped every year – that we know of. In the UK only 15 per cent of adults who are raped report it to the police, while 40 per cent don’t tell anyone.
Yet Devon’s victims have the choice of seeking free advice from just three Rape Crisis centres; in Cornwall, Bristol or Gloucester.
There is a helpline, but it’s not 24-hour. The Samaritans is referred to as an out of hours contact.
Rape Crisis centres are small, voluntary outfits, and in the last five years a lack of funding has forced the closure of 10.
It comes as no surprise then, that Rape Crisis implored David Cameron last year to spare the centres any budget cuts.
Together with The Survivors Trust (which covers a broader victim group), Rape Crisis has about 100 help centres in England and Wales. The Survivors Trust estimates that they cost about £150,000 to run per year.
Anna Bird, acting chief executive of the Fawcett Society, which campaigns for equal rights for women, said: “The Government’s own figures predict that 100,000 women will be raped each year in Britain – equivalent to 2,000 women a week.
“To suggest that some of those rapes are not ‘serious’, that there are shades of sexual consent, is offensive and legally incorrect.”
The overall cost to society of all sexual offences was estimated to be £8.5bn in 2003-04, with each rape costing more than £76,000.
Much of the cost relates to long-term health issues faced by victims, and is borne by the health service, according to Rape Crisis.
Mr Cameron today claimed that “because we take the crime of rape so seriously”, the government has increased the funding for Rape Crisis centres.
It has. In the year 2009-10, the Labour government allocated £2.5m to voluntary organisations helping victims of sexual violence and abuse.
The current government has committed up to £3.5m a year, for three years, in grants for rape support centres. This is the first time ever the government has committed to more than one year of funding.
Fay Maxted, chief executive of The Survivors Trust, told FactCheck: “In the past, being funded year-on-year has created a lot of instability, so the introduction of funding for three years is fantastic. The only problem is, it’s not a perfect system.”
The government aims to allocate at least £30,000 a year to each eligible centre, including existing centres. In March, the Ministry of Justice pledged to provide £600,000 to develop new centres in Trafford, Hereford, Exeter and Bournemouth.
For some however, this does not go far enough. Peter Saunders, the founder and chief executive of The National Association for People Abused in Childhood (NAPAC), told FactCheck that politicians “throwing a few million at Rape Crisis centres every now and then” only scratches the surface.
And indeed, Ms Maxted said dedicating the money only to adult, female victims of rape was “not broad enough”.
“Yes the money’s ring-fenced, but it’s ring-fenced for adult women. It’s a real shame that some groups are excluded; under-18s, disabled victims, men – there’s absolutely no focus on men.
“I think it’s very sad that some of these centres haven’t had any funding. We’ll lose the more specialist centres,” she told FactCheck.
Mr Saunders, who says he dreams of the day “that big cheque arrives for NAPAC”, has only once received a government donation and that was for £15,000 back in Jacqui Smith’s day.
“It helped, but it was a drop in the ocean,” he said, adding that the government’s main focus is domestic violence and adult rape charities.
Mr Cameron was right about the funding, and giving more money to rape crisis centres is a step in the right direction. But the need to provide support for all victims of sexual crimes – not just adult women – is very real.
What’s more, the PM stressed that the “real disgrace” in rape crime is that less than 6 per cent of the crimes result in convictions.
This is a “well-known, long-standing, appalling figure,” NAPAC’s Mr Saunders told FactCheck, “and there hasn’t been much done about putting that right.
“We live in a disgusting culture which believes people are ‘asking for it’. It’s nonsense that is deeply embedded in our culture.”
We also live in a culture where 85 per cent of adult rape victims don’t report it to the police.
Worse still, “less than half who reported to police were given information about ongoing support,” Dr Kate Cook, from Manchester Metropolitan University, said in her response to the 2010 Stern Review for the Campaign to End Rape (CER).
In some cases, she said, they were just given a leaflet about Victim Support.
Whether a rape case goes forward to a conviction or not, the victim will always be in need of support.
By Emma Thelwell