UK

'I couldn't even get on waiting list for rape support'

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Media captionFern Champion, who was raped while travelling on a gap year, struggled to get help back in the UK

Two years ago, Fern Champion was raped while travelling abroad on a gap year. When she returned to the UK, she hoped to access a Rape Crisis centre for support - but could not even get on a waiting list.

"It was at this point that I felt like I was in complete crisis, I didn't know what to do or where to turn," says Ms Champion.

"I felt completely helpless and my mental health was deteriorating beyond a point I felt like I could control, I was having severe problems with my sleep, flashbacks, nightmares, strong signs of PTSD."

Ms Champion was attacked in Kuala Lumpur after a night clubbing with friends. She had gone outside for some fresh air as she was "very drunk", when a man who had attached himself to her group took her into his car, then back to his hotel.

He first assaulted her while she was unconscious on the sofa, then raped her repeatedly throughout the night, as she slipped in and out of consciousness.

"I remember giving up and thinking if I fell asleep he couldn't do this to me. But he kept going," she says.

She reported the incident to the police, but no-one has ever been caught.

'Start processing it'

The attack happened when she was three months into her travels, with flights booked to take her to New Zealand where she was planning to live for a year.

There, she tried to rebuild her life and enjoy the experience, but she also spent the year on a waiting list for counselling support.

"I knew as soon as I came back home things would hit me and I would properly start processing it," she says.

Image caption Ms Champion spent a year working in New Zealand

When she returned to the UK in August 2017, Ms Champion hoped she would finally be able to get some help. She contacted both east and south London Rape Crisis centres, but was told she could not get on the waiting list at either.

Both are part-funded by the government and offer help and counselling to victims of sexual abuse.

She tried again in January, then March 2018, but was told both times that the waiting list remained closed.

Ms Champion finally got help after calling in sick to her job as a legal PA after she realised she could not go on.

Her boss was "amazing," signing her off work and organising for her to have therapy with a trauma counsellor, paid for by the company.

"It's the only reason I'm receiving any support - because of my work," Ms Champion says.

Image caption Ms Champion says there are thousands of women in a similar position to her

"I'm so fortunate I am in the position where I could do that. To be denied justice, denied support, it takes its toll."

During this time she contacted her local MP Dr Rosena Allin-Khan to discuss her lack of access to support.

The MP wrote to former health secretary Jeremy Hunt, who stated that "allocations for sexual assault referral centres have increased this year".

Justice Secretary David Gauke said that in 2017-18, the Ministry of Justice "directly allocated around £7.2m as a contribution to 97 Rape Support Centres across England and Wales".

'Left by themselves'

But Ms Champion - who has waived her right to anonymity - believes more needs to be done.

She is now telling her story to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Sexual Violence.

According to Rape Crisis England and Wales - which has 44 Rape Crisis centres, part-funded by the government - its services were accessed by 78,461 individuals in 2017-18.

This compares with the 648,000 16 to 59-year-olds who experienced sexual assault in the year ending March 2017, according to the Crime Survey of England and Wales. Of these, 510,000 were women.

Ms Champion says there are thousands of women in a similar position to her.

"What people don't understand is the increase in people reporting their assaults is not reflected in the support provided," she says, "so these victims are encouraged to come forward and then they're just left by themselves."

She says she wanted to speak out as she wanted MPs to understand the gravity of the situation.

"As awful as it has been for me, what about all the other women. I can't process what it must be like for someone who has not been as fortunate as me," she says.

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said it was committed to supporting victims of crime.

"We will give around £68m this year to police and crime commissioners to support all victims of crime - and more than £7m for independent, specialist support to victims of sexual violence, including victims of child sexual abuse," he said.

Watch the BBC's Victoria Derbyshire programme on weekdays between 09:00 and 11:00 on BBC Two and the BBC News Channel in the UK.

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