Map of Gaps: The postcode lottery in violence against women support services

by Holly Dustin

Ever thought what would happen if a female friend, family member or work colleague was raped or in an abusive relationship? We all know about the appallingly low conviction rates for these offences but at least women can get the support they need, right? Wrong. Specialised provision, such as Rape Crisis Centres and domestic violence refuges, are patchy in most parts of the country and in some places non-existent. Yet these are vital services that help women reach immediate safety, support them through the justice system and help them move on with their lives.

As members of End Violence Against Women (EVAW) know all too well, a big part of the problem is that there has been a move to funding generic, rather than women-specific services. The result is that we are witnessing a tide of closures in the women's voluntary sector, with many more creaking under the weight of demand.

Holly Dustin is Manager of the End Violence Against Women campaign You might think that this is an issue that only effects a tiny minority of women, but the stark fact is that every year three million women across the UK experience rape, trafficking, forced marriage or some other form of gender-based violence - usually committed by men known to the victim. And don't forget that there are many, many more women who have been abused in the past, either as an adult or a child, and who need help in getting over this abuse.

Map of Gaps, a report by EVAW and the Equality and Human Rights Commission, contains a series of maps showing graphically how women face a postcode lottery in their access to specialised violence against women support services. It paints a bleak picture; a third of local authorities in the UK have no specialised support services.

It should not be acceptable in this day and age that most women in the UK don't have access to a Rape Crisis Centre or that less than one in ten local authorities have specialised services for ethnic minority women that would address forced marriage, female genital mutilation and crimes in the name of honour amongst other issues.

Our maps show that the best story to be told is in Scotland where services are distributed more equally. In fact Scotland is the only part of the UK where Rape Crisis Centres are actually expanding rather than closing! The reason for this is very simple; the Scottish Government is developing a strategic approach to ending violence against women that includes a commitment to funding specialised services.

EVAW and the Equality and Human Rights Commission want national governments and local authorities to take urgent action to stem the tide of closures and ensure national coverage of services so that all women have access to the vital support they need. Indeed, the Commission has said this will be a key test for how these important public bodies implement the Gender Equality Duty, a new law requiring all public bodies to promote equality between women and men.

Women deserve quality support services. The current situation is simply too costly, not just to individual women but also to society more broadly. We must end the postcode lottery by bridging the gaps.

If you think that women deserve specialised support no matter where they live email your MP (usually surnameinitial@parliament.uk) and ask what s/he is doing to make sure women have access to quality support services.

For more information go to endviolenceagainstwomen.org.uk or equalityhumanrights.com.