Sex abuse victim's plea for 'life-saving' centre
A WOMAN who was the teenage victim of sexual abuse said she would have killed herself were it not for a service which now faces crippling budget cuts.
The child sex abuse unit in Leopold Street, which helps more than 100 victims each year, faces a 50% cut in its council funding. For three years it helped one teenager who had suffered sexual and violent abuse.
Now 20, the woman is in her final year of university and on track to get a first in her chemistry degree. But she said that if it had not been for the support she received from the Leopold Street centre she would be dead.
"It saved my life. I wouldn't be alive, never mind where I am now at university," she said.
Now, however, Derby City Council is considering cutting £100,000 from the service, half its annual funding.
The British Association of Social Workers chairwoman Fran Fuller, who is also a course leader at the University of Derby, said: "Given that the sexual exploitation of young people is such a painfully relevant issue in Derby, it is inconceivable that the city can be preparing to spend millions on a velodrome and a refurbished Council House at the expense of services that transform and literally save children's lives."
The 20-year-old victim was brave enough to walk through the Leopold Street doors and seek help, something she desperately needed as the sex-abuse case went through the courts.
She was given support and advice by trained counsellors expert in dealing with the damage that sexual abuse can cause. She said: "That sort of crime is not something you can recover from, it is with you for ever and without the support I wouldn't have got through my A-levels, I would have dropped out.
"At stressful times I still call them now. Sometimes it can be a TV programme or a certain smell that brings everything back and they are always there to offer you that support.
"This is a lifesaving service. You wouldn't cut cancer treatment because it saves lives so how can the council cut this service?"
The proposed cut would mean the loss of the equivalent of two full-time staff. There are nearly five full-time equivalents in the unit.
Ms Fuller said: "The child sex abuse unit in Derby is a vital component of child protection. To suggest a 50% reduction in its budget alongside other cuts in children's services flies in the face of national policy and research.
"It also risks placing more young lives in jeopardy and sends all the wrong signals to those who would seek to exploit children for their own gratification. At a time when sexual abuse is so high-profile, how can we tell children we have nothing for them?
Derby City Council said the cuts were only proposals at the moment and that details would be worked through as part of the budget-setting.
Council leader Paul Bayliss said: "When under a lot of pressure, we have to look at every individual service. Whatever happens in the budget we will always deliver this service, but we are looking at delivering it in better and new ways."
Cabinet member for children and young people Councillor Martin Rawson conceded: "There are things in this budget which are unpalatable and forced by government funding cuts.
"However, as this concern has been raised I've instructed officers to have a look to see if there is another way to deliver this service without the loss, particularly in staffing levels, but to find the savings another way."
Mary Johnson, who used to work with Rape Crisis, is so concerned about the proposals she will quiz the council on them at its meeting tonight.
She said: "I want to know how the needs and risks of the survivors of sexual abuse were measured before they thought of cutting this service so much in the budget.
"I have worked in the voluntary sector with young people and adults and I'm aware of the unit and the work done there.
"I'm aware from my own job about what happens if you don't get these children help, how you see that adult grow up to have mental health problems because they didn't get the help as a child."
And, as a survivor, the 20-year-old former service user said she knows the desperate avenues people go down.
"I know I was suicidal but you also think of drug abuse, anything to get you out of your own head. The repercussions are so wide."
And Ms Johnson added: "It is very wrong that children who have gone through this terrible trauma then face having their help cut. That is unethical.
"But for those people who are receiving the support now, taking that away from them is a second crime."