This article originally appeared on VICE UK.
By the time I was 25, within my close friendship circle, most of us had been raped. I feel quite lightheaded looking at that sentence. Surely it can't be right? Is there a way of writing it that sounds less harsh? I delete the sentence but type it again. If I'm going to be honest—and I decided I couldn't write this piece without mentioning my personal stake—then yes, those are the facts.
I'm in my thirties now and, looking back, our acceptance seems shocking. We all took a lot of drugs, often other people's, and waking up with a dick inside you was almost seen as an occupational risk. No one went to the police; it wasn't even talked about that much. The only time I remember a situation being dealt with—in a manner—was when a group of lads went over to the house of two men who had attacked me in Amsterdam and kicked the living daylights out of them. But police? Not a chance. When I was raped by my friend's boyfriend, passed out after a session, I didn't even tell her.
Some stats: Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that reports of rape are at an all-time high; more than 22,100 were recorded last year. This is the tip of the iceberg. According to the charity Rape Crisis, approximately 85,000 women and 12,000 men are raped in England and Wales every year; roughly 11 an hour. Only 15 percent of these are reported to the police.
It's against this backdrop that the lack of government funding of sexual abuse charities is so galling. According to a Guardian investigation, specialist organizations across the country are on the brink of collapse. Despite soaring numbers of survivors coming forward, not one Rape Crisis center has funding beyond March of 2016. After having its state funding taken away, Britain's biggest male rape charity, Survivors UK, is likely to lose its counseling service by Christmas.
Sophie managed to get Julian out of the flat, but he began stalking her. He'd spend hours parked across the street; stand banging on the door; phone and text constantly; and, on some occasions, break in through the windows to rape her again. Eventually, Sophie's friends told her parents, and her parents went to the police.
Thanks to ample evidence, including witnesses and hundreds of phone messages, Julian was arrested, remanded in custody and, finally, sentenced to 13 years in prison.
But the story didn't stop there for Sophie. By the time the case went to crown court, she'd attempted suicide twice and was struggling to keep her drinking under control. Today, she's in a better place, gives talks to care professionals on how to spot signs of sexual violence, and is getting treatment for PTSD and anxiety.
Sophie credits her recovery to the help of Rape Crisis and Solace, a charity working with survivors of domestic and sexual abuse. The charity offered her an emotional "life jacket," Sophie says. She'd never have made it through the trial without their support.
"If services like this are cut, there will be more offenders getting away with it," she tells me. "I couldn't have faced going to court."
Solace has funding from the Home Office, but other specialist charities are less fortunate. In Scarborough, an organization called Hope—which works mainly with survivors of childhood sexual abuse—is struggling. Hope was founded by Pauline Carruthers, who set up what was originally a small support group for herself and other survivors. Thanks to soaring need and a lack of similar services in the area (Hope covers a 1,500-square-mile radius of rural North Yorkshire) the charity grew exponentially. At one point, after securing Lottery funding, Hope employed seven full time staff and had 43 volunteers.
Today, the charity is on the brink of financial collapse. All staff, Pauline included, work without pay, the well-attended counseling service for children has closed, and outreach work has been halted. Still, Hope works with around 300 people a year, and numbers increase every time a high-profile case of sexual abuse hits the news. The charity will carry on, Pauline says. They'll find a way because people need them.
Many of Hope's clients come here every day and stay as long as the center is open, sometimes just drinking tea and looking at Facebook, other times taking part in therapy sessions or being helped with job applications or benefits claims. Some have gone on to degrees and careers, to form stable relationships. For others, success is simply still being here, still being alive.
"If I hadn't got this help I'd be dead by now," says Craig.*
Craig was sexually abused at 14. He told no one. Not his brothers, not his parents, not his wife of 20 years. Certainly not the police. He thought he had a lid on things but, by 40, he was drinking a liter-and-a-half of vodka a day, had lost his job as an HGV driver and seen his marriage fall apart. With life disintegrating around him, Craig sought help and was referred to Hope.
"I had to force myself to walk through the doors," Craig tells me. "You think people are looking at you. You think you've got 'been abused' on your forehead."
When I speak to him, Craig is confident and chirpy, a million miles away from the shattered man who first dragged himself through these doors. He's on the board of trustees for Hope and has rebuilt a network of relationships. "Making contact with Hope was the best thing I ever did," he says.
Likewise, 40-year-old Jenny*—who was sexually abused as a child, raped by her boss at 16, and whose own daughter was abused at three—felt she had nowhere to turn. "I didn't know there was anybody out there to tell until I came to Hope," she says.
Jenny tells me her story and, like Craig's, it speaks of society's deep failure. Let down by family, forced into silence by social convention, terrified of disbelief, distrusting of police and the justice system, people try to simply soldier on. Except they can't.
Some more stats: one in 20 children in the UK have been sexually abused. Of these, a third don't tell anyone until much later in their lives.
Last year, 40 percent of Hope's referrals came from doctors. Hope is being used as a frontline service and that's exactly what it provides. It seems fair to ask why a frontline service like this is being run on a shoestring by volunteers.
It's a decade ago, but I still vividly remember being driven out of Amsterdam in the rain, watching it sleet down on that flat Dutch landscape, crying in the back of the car because I really thought this would be the last thing I ever saw. In the end, I screamed so much they let me go.
It's hard to unpick why I didn't go to the police. Some possibilities: I thought they'd blame me, the fact that I was wasted. After all, I'd chosen to get into a car outside a club in the early hours of the morning, just planning to smoke a spliff, not expecting the doors to slam. I kind of blamed myself. And like I said, sexual abuse was so rife in the party scene we must all have normalized it in some way. Coupled with the fact that people avoided the police at the best of times, it was a bad combination
But that's just my story. Sophie, Jenny, Jenny's daughter, Craig, some of you reading this, have others.
On some levels, it does seem that things are getting better. Universities are leading the way in talking about consent; brilliant projects like Pavan Amara's My Body Back project, offering healthcare to survivors, are springing up; sexual abuse is increasingly brought into the open. But are things really changing?
Rape is still endemic in our society. Abusers feel entitled to abuse, survivors frequently remain silent.
The government cuts appear to give a thumbs up to all of this. They're saying: The status quo is A-OK everyone, nothing to worry about here. It's a message both abusers and survivors will hear.
*Names have been changed.
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