County Council axes funding for victims of sexual abuse

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Funding cuts will hit support services for victims of sexual abuse despite concerns of police and organisations which fear it will increase waiting lists and reduce the number of specialists in therapeutic services.

As part of the savings proposal to plug the current £132 million budget gap forecasted for 2025/26, Hampshire County Council has agreed to pull out of the joint contract for the Independent Sexual Violence Advocacy (ISVA) and Sexual Crime Therapeutic Services.

Formally known as the Rape and Sexual Assault Counselling (RASAC) services for victims of sexual violence and abuse, the funding will end in April 2025.

The Independent Sexual Violence Advocacy (ISVA) service offers practical support and advice to individuals who have experienced rape, sexual abuse/violence or sexual exploitation, including support to those whose case is progressing through the criminal justice system.

The ISVA Service is jointly funded and commissioned by the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner, Hampshire County Council, Southampton City Council and Portsmouth City Council.

The contract for ISVA services started in April 2022 with an annual contribution from the county council of £16,800.

The all-age Sexual Crime Therapeutic Service provides a telephone helpline, therapeutic support and activities to help adults, children and young people who have experienced sexual abuse, sexual exploitation, assault and rape at any time in their lives.

Council papers said the county council contributes £67,398 to the service across the whole of Hampshire, with the city councils in Portsmouth and Southampton, and the council on the Isle of Wight, not contributing funding for additional services in their areas.

With the decision to stop the ISVA and the Sexual Crime Therapeutic Service, the county council will save £84,198 from April 2025, as full council agreed in November 2023.

However, despite the council’s approval, partners were disappointed and concerned with the measure.

In a letter to the county council, police and crime commissioner Donna Jones said she was disappointed and said the end of the support towards the sexual crime therapeutic service will reduce the number of counsellors and counselling hours.

She said as a result, it will impact the capacity to meet demand, resulting in reduced response time to referrals and enquiries, delays with needs assessments and longer waiting times to access counselling.

“Reducing the therapeutic sessions to minimise waiting times is not an option, and ethically, it is not considered safe to offer counselling with a tighter limit on the number of sessions,” she said.

“Group work may likely become the mandatory pathway with reduced funding as there will be reduced individual sessions, and this is not the preferred option.

“Innovation across the Hampshire, Isle of Wight, Portsmouth and Southampton area has led to the development of innovative programmes such as the LOTUS residential and day services, enabling victims and survivors to access support more quickly, helping to reduce waiting times.

“Such services would be under direct threat if funding is reduced at the level proposed, again increasing the likelihood of victims waiting longer.”

Chief executive at Community First Tim Houghton also said that because of the withdrawal, they will suffer a “significant impact” on the level of service they can offer since the cuts will reduce its overall budget by 13 per cent.

In addition, they will suffer a reduction in the number of counselling teams and hours, impacting their capacity to meet the demand.

Mr Houghton said: “This cut will result in a forecast 30 per cent reduction in response time to referrals and enquiries and longer waiting times to access counselling. Needs assessments are currently undertaken in 10 days and could take up to 15 days if the funding is reduced as planned.

“We estimate that likely waiting times to access counselling will increase from two to three months to four to five months. Experience to date shows us that the longer victims and survivors have to wait to access support at each stage in the process leads to increased anxiety, distress, and risks

worsening their mental wellbeing.”

Community First currently supports 500 victims of abuse each year, of all ages and from all backgrounds, most of whom are women and girls. Of them, 30 per cent have a diagnosed mental health need, including anxiety and depression.

Eastleigh Borough Council also expressed its concerns about the county council’s plans.

It urged the county council to reconsider the decision “in the light of the worsening situation of sexual abuse and assault” and to “understand” that “prevention of abuse and support for victims is both therapeutically and economically sensible in the long term”.

The borough council said: “At a time when domestic and sexual abuse represents approximately one-third of all violent crime this is a worrying decision and could have severe long-term implication for victims.

“Rape, sexual abuse and sexual assault disproportionally impact women and girls, and this means in turn that the proposed Hampshire County Council reductions to funding will impact disproportionally on women and girls.”

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