TV presenter Charlie Webster said she was left in tears after the story of her childhood friend who suffered sexual abuse and ultimately took her own life was raised in Parliament following a campaign to improve support for victims.
Ms Webster has written an open letter – signed by Rape Crisis, Women’s Aid, Refuge and Save the Children UK and others – calling on the Government to provide “sufficient” multi-year funding for specialist support services in the Victims and Prisoners Bill.
In the letter, Ms Webster described how her friend Katie helped to convict their abusive running coach, only to take her own life many years later.
We stand with Charlie as she bravely shares her story and honours the memory of her friends Katie and Georgina. We must ensure other survivors of sexual violence and abuse aren't let down in the same way they were. https://t.co/32DOa2Y6sT
— Rape Crisis England & Wales (@RapeCrisisEandW) May 15, 2023
Her story was raised by Labour MP Jess Phillips in the House of Commons as MPs debate the Bill’s second reading.
The MP for Birmingham, Yardley, who is a shadow Home Office minister but was speaking from the back benches, noted rhetoric on providing support to victims of abuse, but hit out at a lack of specialist support services.
“Let’s just get some counsellors for people to go to, that might be an idea… I think that many of us will have seen the letter today from Charlie Webster, who is a friend of many of us in this chamber, and the story of her friend Katie, who took her life following not being able to overcome the trauma of her situation, is the actual reality on the ground for the vast,” she said, before cutting off to take an intervention.
When Ms Webster was 19, their coach was convicted and sent to prison for 10 years. In 2021, she documented her experience alongside victims including Katie in a documentary for the BBC called Nowhere To Run: Abused By Our Coach.
Earlier this year, Ms Webster revealed Katie had died by suicide.
Going back to exactly why I wrote my open letter.
In Parliament @jessphillips just said:
“The only allocation of funding in the Victims bill is for the prisoners bit – not the victims bit.”
So the Victims Bill is not about victims at all.
— Charlie Webster (@CharlieCW) May 15, 2023
Ms Webster, in her letter to the Government, said: “If you truly want to put victims and survivors at the heart of the bill then I strongly call on you to ensure that sufficient multi-year funding is allocated to make sure that victims can get access to specialist support when then need it, particularly specialist counselling and emotional support that help survivors to work through trauma and rebuild their lives after sexual abuse.”
The broadcaster also said on Twitter: “Although I welcome the efforts currently being made, and the creation of the Victim’s Bill, it’s irresponsible to create a bill that says it has victims at its heart but doesn’t provide sufficient commitment to specialist support for them.”
After Ms Phillips spoke, Ms Webster wrote on Twitter: “In tears. Thank you @jessphillips for speaking about Katie in Parliament.
“I so desperately wanted Katie and her pain be heard after all these years. I’m heartbroken for her and her family that we can’t bring her back, and help her. But we can save others.”
Conservative MP Kate Kniveton also urged ministers to invest more in support services for domestic abuse victims.
The Burton MP told the Commons: “We need to ensure the available support is what victims want and need. So much of this is crisis-related, and of course getting people into safety is hugely important, but what about after that?”
She cited research by Women’s Aid which claimed investing a minimum of £427 million a year to fund specialist domestic abuse services across England “could save the public purse as much as £23 billion a year”.
Justice Secretary Alex Chalk had earlier told the Commons: “The Bill will provide better support for victims.
“It will help to ensure that support services – those critical services – are targeted where they are most needed by introducing a new joint statutory duty on police and crime commissioners, integrated care boards and local authorities to co-operate, to work together when commissioning support services for victims of domestic and sexual abuse and other serious violent crimes.”