ANYONE in Worcestershire and Herefordshire who has been raped or sexually abused and telephones the local helpline for support currently has to wait five months for counselling.

The general lack of funding for this service means there are not enough counsellors being employed to undertake this highly specialised work.

This is the stark reality as the West Mercia Rape and Sexual Abuse Support Centre (WMRSASC) marks its 30th anniversary. Even more alarming is that this is the shortest waiting time for a rape and sexual abuse service in the West Midlands.

Chief executive officer (CEO) Jocelyn Anderson says she often poses this question when talking to people about funding for the centre’s services. “If this was your child, how long would you want them to wait?”

The centre, originally covering just Worcester and known as the Worcester Rape and Sexual Abuse Support Centre, was set up as a helpline run from a back bedroom by two women who wanted to help local women experiencing rape and sexual abuse.

During the past 30 years the organisation has seen a massive expansion and now offers a range of free confidential services for women and men, adults and children. It now employs about 30 staff and has 55 volunteers offering a face-to-face service to nearly 1,700 clients a year. It also receives around 1,300 helpline calls across the two counties each year.

But despite that development in the service and an increased awareness of the issues involved in rape and sexual abuse, the charitable company’s service is hampered by a lack of funds, leaving clients on a long waiting list.

Jocelyn said: “Our core ethos is the same as it was at the beginning. We are there to support people. And if a person needs on-going counselling we believe people should get it when they need it and for as long as they need it.

“The centre started during a time when a lot of women’s organisations were set up. A lot of women set up organisations to look after other women. It was grass roots offering practical support.”

Even when Jocelyn joined as CEO in 2004, there were just two members of staff. “When I came in first we needed £20,000 to run it and next year it will be £1 million.”

But she doesn’t think the demand for the service is due to an increase in the number of rapes or the levels of sexual abuse, it is more to do with the amount of reporting. And the rise in people coming forward may be influenced by the increasing number of high profile national cases. “Sexual violence support is underfunded – that’s it,” said Jocelyn.

Generally, in the case of rape women don’t come forward immediately after the incident. “The average time for a woman to come forward after a rape is two to three years. They have to deal with the trauma, shock, guilt and self-blame,” she said.

The Worcester-based charity expanded in 2011 when a new centre was opened serving Herefordshire. Ten per cent of people raped and sexually abused are male and in 2013 it set up an Independent Sexual Violence Advisor (ISVA) service for men, followed by a male counselling service in 2015.

Later this month the organisation is launching a new service for children aged five to 11. “We have three dedicated children’s counsellors and we are keen to appoint more.

“Both the current and past Police and Crime Commissioner for West Mercia have been brilliant with helping to fund the ISVA service but the therapeutic side relies on Home Office funding. We do not get anything from the local authority, health or clinical commissioning groups.”

In October 2015 it launched a counselling service for children (from the age of 11) and in the first six months had received 75 referrals.

Jocelyn concluded: “I am very proud of the work we have done and continue to do. The staff and volunteers we have are immensely dedicated and loyal. It is a different organisation now than it was when it started. It is a lot bigger.

“One of the things I am proudest of is the very good relationship we have with the police and we have worked really hard to get that.

“The most significant change in our 30 years has been social media and the internet. Children are being exposed to pornography at an early age – on a porn site there is nothing to say it is not real life. Many young people do not know you have got to consent to sex."

WMRSASC counsellors offer emotional support which is practical and structured to help the client deal with their day to day coping strategies and dealing with their feelings. Therapeutic support by fully qualified counsellors is geared towards more in depth issues of self-worth and changing patterns of behaviour to move people on from the cycle of abuse and help them take charge of their lives.

“We offer open ended therapy. The vast majority of clients attend for 19 sessions. I have supported one person for three years,” said Jocelyn.

The work involves building trust and cultivating safety that allows clients to look at their deepest and darkest beliefs about themselves takes time, she added.

WMRSASC now provides a range of free services including

1. ISVAs for adults - primarily those who have reported their experience to the police and there may be a court case.

2. Children and Young People’s Independent Sexual Violence Advisors (ChISVA) for young people who have reported abuse to the police and there may be a court case.

3. Family ISVAs to support the parents of young people who have reported sexual abuse.

4. Male support workers so the centre can offer a choice for gender.

5. Counselling services for 11 to 18-year-olds and adults – men and women, girls and boys.

6. Educational training in secondary schools in Herefordshire and Worcestershire – workers talk to students on issues like consenting to sex, sexting (sending and receiving sexually explicit messages), pornography, gender and stereotypes.

7. Professional development training for social workers, police and other professionals. The centre has worked with the University of Worcester to develop a course resulting in the Postgraduate Certificate in Advocacy for Victims of Sexual Violence. This is the highest qualification for ISVAs in the country.

8. Helpline and e-mail support.

To celebrate the centre’s 30th anniversary, it is holding an all-day Rockfest fundraising event at the Marrs Bar, Worcester, on Saturday October 15 featuring music from Soul Stripper, Foreign Quarter, Connor Maher Quartet, Thousand Mountain, Skewwhiff, Hipflask Virgins, Calm Like a Riot, Rich Clarke and Surge. MadSnacks Killa Tacos will be there selling their tacos, plus there will be a vinyl shop and raffle with all proceeds going to the charity.

Tickets are £5 advance from or £7 on the door. Doors open at 3.30pm.

• According to the NSPCC, one in five individuals will be sexually assaulted before the age of 16

• Just 10-15 per cent of cases of rape are reported to the police

• Stranger rapes are few and far between – 80-90 per cent of people raped will know the person who rapes them.