May 4, 2022 - 1:00pm

Sarah, a rape and childhood abuse survivor, never thought she would end up taking the organisation she turned to for help to court. Last year the mother of two attended group therapy organised by the Survivors’ Network, a Brighton-based charity offering support to victims of sexual violence, and initially found the sessions helpful.

But she was shocked when, at the fifth session, “someone who appeared to be a man” joined the group. This was in accordance with the Survivors’ Network’s policy of being open to ‘self-identifying’ women. When she complained Sarah was told “we do not police gender” and advised to seek support elsewhere. The Survivors’ Network is the only organisation of its kind in Sussex.

Fifty years ago, when women’s rights activists were scraping together the money and goodwill to build rape crisis centres, the idea that one day they would be publicly-funded probably seemed like an impossible dream. Last year Survivors’ Trust received £100,000 from government. But acceptance has come at a cost.

The form of feminism that has come to prominence within institutions like universities and charities has become increasingly divorced from the practical realities of women’s lives. The Survivors’ Network exemplifies this, providing jobs for a cadre of gender-addled professionals while losing sight of the needs of traumatised women.

The response to Sarah’s case has been polarised: some understand her to be taking a brave stand for women’s rights; others view her as attacking a vulnerable minority. University of Bristol legal academic Dr Yvette Russell has been particularly scathing, referring to the case on Twitter she commented, “I see the trans exclusive radical fascists are at it again, and there’s always a lawyer waiting in the wings to enable them.”

It is a testament to how deep this cultural divide runs that educated professionals who doubtless believe they have secured a place ‘on the right side of history’ are willing to call rape survivors like Sarah and her supporters ‘fascists.’ Sarah herself is adamant that she doesn’t “want to take away rights from anyone who identifies as trans” but simply “to make sure that there are services for women who need a female-only space.”

There are no signs of change within the Survivors’ Network. Last month the charity published an open letter criticising the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) for issuing guidance which suggested single-sex services were lawful.

Sarah feels bitterly let down:

The Survivors’ Network are so desperate to be trans-inclusive they don’t care if they exclude women. The messages on social media that the Survivors’ Network put out are shallow. They talk in buzzwords, with phrases like ‘intersectionality’ and ‘misogynoir’ that seem to have come straight from gender studies departments in universities, not practical experience of helping women who have suffered sexual violence.
- Sarah

On their website the Survivors’ Network boasts that it strives “to create an accepting, listening, safe, non-judgemental environment which seeks to validate and understand the survivors’ experiences.” But it seems clear: raped women who do not share their woke worldview should not expect support.

Josephine Bartosch is a freelance writer and assistant editor at The Critic.