A Salford charity says the criminal justice system that deals with sexual violence towards women needs a complete overhaul.

Nicola Leonard, of Salford Soul Sisters, an organisation that helps female victims of sexual assault, domestic abuse, and rape, has spoken out in light of the murder of Sarah Everard by serving Met Officer Wayne Couzens.

Her comments also come after The Guardian revealed that 40 per cent of police services across England and Wales lack a specialised rape and sexual offences unit, including Greater Manchester, which closed in 2018 due to funding cuts.

Official numbers show that in the year the Greater Manchester Police’s (GMP) unit closed, Salford numbers were the highest in more than six years, with 301 cases reported.

Ms Leonard said: “I want it to be made clear that I want transparency as to why the funding has been pulled. I want transparency as to where the money is going.

“Did the place [GMP’s Rape unit] opening resolve things and had it got perpetrators prosecuted? No it didn’t. Do we need something else? Yes. The whole system is broken.

“I’ve heard some horrific stories, even when men are prosecuted, it’s not always a good outcome. Whether they’re put into temporary accommodation around the country, these women feel trapped, in an environment where they have no access to resources and are expected to crack on.”

Fewer than one per cent of nationwide rape allegations were solved in 2020-21, and prosecutions are at the lowest levels on record.

Ms Leonard said: “It makes me enraged. But then I also understand there’s a lot of other social, economic factors that affect it. There are so many factors: mental health, addiction, poverty, that can turn into domestic violence and affect the woman.

“I’m a women’s organisation, yes it happens to men, but in comparison to the death statics, that’s what rings alarm bells.”

She continued: “We need something that can catch the people who have done it. We need to look into the social/ economic factors as to why sexual violence against women is here. We need to look at the whole set-up between men and women and how it is indoctrinated since day one.”

Since opening three years ago, Salford Soul Sisters has been based in Little Hulton’s Pavillion, providing women who fall victim to violence and assault with resources and peer-support.

She said: “The positives are that there are grass-root charities out there, who can listen to what the women want. It’s about listening to what the women want. Not just being a ‘professional’, you’ve got to listen to their voice.

“Peer mentor support and empowerment groups, sharing knowledge. The people who are here, save it. The people save the people. That’s where the power is, when women are together and they’re sharing what they know. There’s nobody living it more than us.”

While calling for a review of the Criminal Justice System’s approach to rape cases, Leonard believes the survivors of such atrocities give her strength.

She added: “These women are doing it for themselves, I’m not doing anything other than providing a building. It’s not about me. They’ll know more than I’ll ever know, they’re going through that situation. I’m lucky they let me sit there and listen to them. To bask in their sunlight is a gift.”

Greater Manchester Police were contacted for a statement.

For more information on the work of Salford Soul Sisters, visit: https://www.salfordcvs.co.uk/contacts/view/116491

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