More than half of female survivors of sexual violence in Greater Manchester have not been able to access the support they need, new research has found.
The stark findings are revealed in a new report, ‘Voices of Survivors: Hearing Women for Change’; a collaborative research project by Manchester Metropolitan University, MASH (Manchester Action on Street Health), Manchester Rape Crisis and Trafford Rape Crisis.
The team, which included Senior Lecturers Dr Kate Cook and Becky Clarke from Manchester Metropolitan University spoke to nearly 400 female survivors of sexual violence in Greater Manchester via focus groups, roadshows and online questionnaires about their experiences.
They found that where people live, women’s perceptions of their experience and inconsistent support were the main barriers women faced in accessing vital support to help them in their recovery.
One woman quoted in the report said: “I have never told anyone about it for fear of being judged… I have not told anyone before now.”
Another woman revealed she had not accessed support because “there was nothing in my area.”
The Voices of Survivors (VOS) partnership commissioned the research, funded by the Lloyds Bank Foundation, to influence long-term change in Greater Manchester.
It found that location affects the likelihood of accessing support. In total, 56% of the women who took part in the research in Manchester and Salford had accessed support but this fell to just below one third for women living in Bolton, Oldham, Rochdale and Tameside.
The research also revealed that specialist charities are the most helpful source of support, closely followed by friends, for many female survivors in Greater Manchester.
Dr Kate Cook, Senior Lecturer and Head of the Sylvia Pankhurst Gender Research Centre at Manchester Metropolitan, said: “This important and novel study has asked women about their experiences of abuse and support. What we have found is a shocking lack of adequate provision.
“This research reveals that there are hundreds of women, who are survivors of abuse in Greater Manchester, who lack support right now. We need urgent action to begin to remedy this.
“A striking finding was that 42% of the survivors describe themselves as living with a disability. This really brings it home how much it matters that the right support is available.
“The research shows that women who live further away from Manchester city centre struggle to find specialist support. Women also told us that they feel judged and silenced and that they don’t know where to go to find support.
“Women had experienced some poor service, from a wide range of agencies. The very best support that women have received was from specialist services and from their friends.
The VOS partnership is calling for long-term commitment to change through the establishment of a Greater Manchester-wide network of survivors, third sector organisations and statutory partners.
Cate Allison, CEO of MASH, a Manchester charity which supports female sex workers and led the project, said: “In this report we hear the voices of hundreds of brave women in our area who have experienced sexual violence.
“Throughout this research it has been shocking to hear that so many have been unable to access the help they need.
“The VOS partnership sees this important research as the beginning of a step forward for the better in Greater Manchester which will mean female survivors don’t face these barriers to accessing vital support.”
The research will be launched on November 9 at Manchester’s People’s History Museum with guest speaker Bev Hughes, Greater Manchester’s Deputy Mayor for Policing, Crime, Criminal Justice, and Fire.
She said: “This is a powerful report that has the voices of victims and survivors at its heart.
“My vision is for Greater Manchester to be a place where women and girls are able to thrive, free from the fear of violence, harassment, and exploitation. Listening to survivors’ stories is crucial to achieving this vision, challenging gaps in the system and ensuring every victim of sexual violence can access the right support, where and when they need it.
“I welcome the opportunity to work with the Voices of Survivors partnership to develop the recommendations in the report and make sure the findings feed into the Greater Manchester Violence against Women and Girls Strategy to shape future services.”
The VOS partnership is calling for a distinct sexual violence strand within the emerging Greater Manchester Violence against Women and Girls strategy, a review of current commissioning arrangements and the establishment and resourcing of a Greater Manchester-wide sexual violence network.