Victims of rape will be offered round-the-clock support as the first 24-hour helpline of its kind launches in England and Wales.
The service will be operated by Rape Crisis England and Wales and can be used by anyone aged 16 and over who has experienced sexual violence and abuse at any point in their life, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) said.
Trained specialists will be on hand to answer calls or messages online at any time, offering emotional support and information on what other services are available to help. The government-funded helpline has been set up in time for Christmas when reports of attacks in the past have been known to increase.
It is hoped that providing help to victims will also bring more perpetrators to justice, as Independent Sexual Violence Advisers (ISVAs) are among the services which the helpline would suggest for victims. Research suggests that victims who speak to an ISVA are 49% less likely to withdraw from the criminal justice process, according to the MoJ. This means that the more support a survivor receives, the more likely it is their attacker will be brought to justice.
Justice Secretary Dominic Raab said: “Making sure that victims of rape and sexual abuse have support whenever they need it is not only the right thing to do – it will also help us to bring more perpetrators to justice.
“When victims feel believed and supported, they are much more likely to stay the course in the criminal justice process. This vital helpline will have a major role to play in providing the support victims need, and in bringing more vile criminals to justice.”
The Support Line delivers on a key pledge in the government’s Rape Review Action Plan which seeks to boost support for victims, improve confidence in the system and increase the number of cases reaching court.
The plan sets out clear actions for the police, prosecutors and courts to roll out a new approach to investigations, reduce the number of victims withdrawing from the process, increase the volumes of trials being heard, protect the public and put more rapists behind bars.
This work is starting to deliver results. In 2021, the number of rape convictions increased by 67% compared to 2020, and the CPS is making charging decisions on average 29 days quicker according to the latest data available. In September, the government also completed the roll out of pre-recorded evidence for rape victims to every Crown Court nationwide – sparing them the trauma of testifying under the full glare of a courtroom.
Rape Crisis chief executive Jayne Butler said the charity was “proud” to be offering the helpline, adding: “No matter when or where it happened – we are here for you. If you contact us we will always listen to you and believe you, and we will never judge.” The move was also welcomed by Women’s Aid boss Farah Nazeer who said she hopes it will help domestic abuse survivors “the right response, first time”.
However, Labour’s Shadow Justice Secretary Steve Reed slammed the Conservatives for taking so long to get the helpline up and running. He said: “It’s embarrassing that after 12 years, a belated helpline is all the Tories can come up with to address their abysmal record on violence against women and girls.
“In the 18 months it’s taken ministers to act since the hotline was announced, more than 70,000 victims have reported they have been raped. These delays do nothing to prevent sexual violence or ensure that victims get justice.”
The MoJ said it wanted to ensure the helpline worked properly and had sufficient staffing levels before it was launched and highlighted that it is just the latest measure in a range of work to better support victims and tackle violence against women and girls.
Other measure include quadrupling funding for services, bringing forward law changes with the Victims Bill, a pilot offering specialist sexual violence support in crown courts and allowing complainants to pre-record evidence for criminal cases.
Specialist sexual violence support is also being piloted at 3 Crown Courts - Leeds Newcastle, and Snaresbrook in London - to provide victims better at-court support. This work includes the introduction of trauma-informed training for court staff, maximising the use of technology and access to ISVAs at court, the government said.
Anyone aged 16 and over who has experienced sexual violence and abuse can contact the helpline by calling 0808 500 2222 or by visiting the website www.247sexualabusesupport.org.uk to start an online chat. Both options are free and confidential.
Children and young people under the age of 16 who need support can contact Childline on 0800 1111 or have a free online chat with a counsellor.