A 24-hour support line launched on Wednesday aims to end the trauma for rape victims of being unable to access help when needed.
The government-funded line, run by the charity Rape Crisis England and Wales, will operate seven days a week.
“This is the service I needed,” said Emily Hunt, who was unable to find help after she was raped.
But Labour said its “belated” launch compounded “the Tories’ abysmal record on violence against women and girls”.
A Ministry of Justice official said the service would cost £6.4m over the next three years, employing 24 trained advisers to listen and link people with local services.
Over-16s who have experienced any form of sexual violence or abuse at any point will be able to talk to specialists on the phone or via a webchat.
At least one in four women and one in 20 men have been raped or sexually assaulted as an adult, according to the Ministry of Justice. And reports of sexual assault increase in the run-up to Christmas.
“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,” Justice Secretary Dominic Raab said.
“When victims feel believed and supported, they are much more likely to stay the course in the criminal justice process.”
But Labour shadow justice secretary Steve Reed said the 18-month wait since the government had promised a 24-7 helpline, in its rape-review report, had done “nothing to prevent sexual violence or ensure victims get justice”.
“Labour will put more police on our streets, open specialist rape courts and create a new domestic-abuse register,” Mr Reed said.
Falling rape prosecution numbers are a source of embarrassment for ministers – down in England and Wales by 70% in the four years to December 2021, with just over 1,500 cases going to court compared with 67,125 rape offences reported to police.
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- Rape cases should be tried in specialist courts – report
Ms Hunt, an independent adviser to the government’s rape review, said after she had been raped she had been “quite literally begging for help and support and there wasn’t any, at least not when I needed it”.
“I am so happy to have been involved in making sure victims now have the support I didn’t,” she added.
Rape Crisis England and Wales chief executive Jayne Butler said: “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.”
Contact the 24-7 Rape and Sexual Abuse Support Line:
- by phone – 0808 500 2222
- online – 247sexualabusesupport.org.uk