Brighton rape crisis centre sued over refusal to offer female-only groups

Posted On 05 May 2022 at 1:19 pm

A rape crisis centre which has refused to hold female-only sessions is being sued by a user who objected to a male-presenting transwoman being allowed to attend her support group.

Sarah Summers – not her real name – joined the group run by Survivors Network in 2021 after she realised she was going to be coming into contact with her rapist in her neighbourhood.

She found the first few sessions, where women discussed similar experiences, helpful. But in September, a transwoman joined the group, wearing trousers and a sweatshirt and speaking in a deep voice.

Sarah said this made her feel “deeply uncomfortable” and the group stopped discussing wider issues of how women are treated by men.

She asked Survivors Network if it was possible to attend a female-only group, knowing it already ran a group for trans, non-binary and intersex survivors.

But the centre said this was not possible and advised her to seek help elsewhere. Survivors Network is Brighton’s only rape crisis centre.

She is now paying for private counselling and has been removed from Survivors Network’s mailing list and blocked on social media.

She said: “The crux of the problem is that people who go to rape crisis centre have been manipulated, lied to and coerced.

“People think rape is always done by a stranger and you are dragged off the street down some alleyway.

“But it may have been years of manipulation and being gaslit, so having a space that’s free of men is really important. Having the option where you don’t think you are being coerced or trapped.

“Some women are happy to be in that space, and obviously trans survivors have a need for that support. But single-sex spaces should be an option.

“I heard from my friends in the group that a woman burst into tears and walked out and was really distressed by the presence of the male in the group.

“A woman who was in the group has got in touch with me and has left because of the same person.

“I have had lots of messages from local women saying they feel they can’t now use the service. A woman I know was told to “reframe her boundaries”. She found that really upsetting.

“There aren’t any other services. They must know that. They are effectively saying we can’t help you.

“It’s such a small ask, to have a women’s group and I’m not sure why they can’t do that.”

Sarah is being represented by Kate Lea and Elizabeth McGlone of Didlaw. The law firm said: “The legal case is that such a policy is indirectly discriminatory because it puts women with Sarah’s experience at a particular disadvantage which cannot be justified.

“Other claims include harassment, victimisation and personal injury.

“Some female survivors have a trauma response to men and it is not appropriate for biological males to share their survivor network.

“Victims of sexual abuse and violence need to be able to share feelings and experiences in a safe single sex environment.

“The Equality Act 2010 prohibits discrimination based on sex or gender reassignment but there are exceptions for certain groups where access can be modified or limited if there is a legitimate aim to protect.

“Guidance from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) says that services should be open to trans people wherever possible.

“This case is about protecting the right for some services to remain single sex spaces, by law, where this is the most appropriate manner of safeguarding the rights of women.

“The rights of women to these spaces is vitally important and must be protected.

“The law is not clear. More guidance is needed. It is hoped that this case will assist in clarifying the law and provide service providers with a clear legal framework.”

Last month, 14 members of Survivors’ Network signed an open letter to the EHRC, criticising the guidance for “framing the support needs of cis women as more important than the support needs of trans people”.

This week, it said in a statement: “We are disappointed to share that we have recently had legal action taken against us due to our trans-inclusive ethos.

“The claimant alleges that we have broken equalities law as (they allege) it is not legitimate or proportionate to welcome trans women into our women-only spaces.

“We wholeheartedly disagree and we will be vigorously defending the allegations.

“The most important thing for us is the continued delivery of our services supporting survivors of sexual violence and abuse, and we want to reassure all of our current survivors and anyone seeking support that we are still here for you.

“Our services will continue to be here for you, just as they have been since we started out over thirty years ago. We know that this might feel unsettling, but we’ve got you.”

The action was lodged at Brighton County Court last Friday. Sarah is crowdfunding to cover her legal costs.

  1. Nathan Adler Reply

    Good luck to Sarah Summers the Survivors Network needs to understand that this is not acceptable.

    • Allimac Reply

      agreed. Of course transwomen should also have access to support. But it does not have to be to the direct detriment of biological women. There seems to be such an erosion of women’s rights going on, it is a tragedy – and will only lead to division, which is surely in noone’s interest.

  2. Helen Reply

    “Wearing trousers and a sweatshirt” isn’t “male presenting”, is it? Unless somehow women are not allowed to wear these items of clothing. It is a regressive kind of feminism that suggests that women need to wear traditionally gendered clothing or somehow their femininity is cast into doubt.

    • Jojo Goldsmith Reply

      ..”and speaking with a deep voice”. I think the article was trying to politely put that this individual whilst identifying as a woman, clearly had not biologically transitioned yet. The items of clothing are kind of irrelevant and your comment of feminism is misplaced. I totally get why Sarah may have been triggered by this and wonder why the individual was not in the ‘trans, non binary and inter sex’ group. Perhaps she was trying to make a point? Anywho Sarah you have my support and asking for a women’s only group is entirely reasonable.

      • Sophie Reply

        You know that HRT on male to female trans people doesn’t affect the voice pitch, right? Some trans women have speech and language therapy to change their voice pitch but it is not easy, and even with the training it’s hard to maintain for long periods. Some trans women have deep voices. Some cis women have deep voices. Yes, the clothing is irrelevant, so why was it mentioned? Sorry, should she have been wearing a frilly dress or something? Is that what women wear? And maybe there wasn’t a trans and non-binary group available at that time she could attend? The only person trying make a point here is “Sarah”. Sounds like she has an agenda here. And how is suing a rape survivors charity helping rape survivors? They’re going to have to spend thousands defending this case and pay out thousands more if they lose. It could well shut them down.

  3. Sarah Supporter Reply

    Thank you for covering this in a factual way. There has been so much disinformation about this online, including lies that Sarah is trying to prevent trans people from accessing support. It is an aggressive smear campaign against a rape victim seeking help.

    Also people keep saying she was offered 1:1 counselling. But the situation with 1:1 counselling in this centre is even worse. The waiting list is two years and women aren’t guaranteed female counsellors when they ask for them.

    Effectively, someone could wait two years to get “help” and then be presented with a male counsellor who might identify as female but triggers her PTSD responses in exactly the same way as any other male person.

    Good luck to Sarah. This situation can’t continue; it’s disgraceful. I hope future public funding is allocated to organisations which actually help women with PTSD from rape instead of aggravating their trauma.

  4. Toby Keynes Reply

    We’re paying for this service that smears traumatised female survivors of male abuse as “prejudiced”. It’s awful.

  5. Hove Guy Reply

    A male-presenting transwoman? Is that another silly woke expression? What is a transwoman? Is it a man in drag, or a woman in drag?

    Good luck with your cause Sarah Supporter. This is another dreadful situation where women are being badly mistreated by all this “trans” nonsense?

  6. Martin woodhead Reply

    theres a trans group so someone should have a quiet word with the transwoman the they’d be better off there
    expecting trauma survivors to be accommodating is probably too much

  7. Philip Pritchard Reply

    Good luck Sarah. It is lamentable that this Brighton organisation appears to be incapable of comprehending the real world. Let’s just hope that simple common sense and humanity prevails.
    My thoughts are with you.

  8. U99 Reply

    Split *exactly half* of all future rape counselling sessions, between 2 groups. Each group aimed at being offered, the same facilities, same access to services, plus same quality of services.

    1st group, cislunar women only, female counsellors only. 2nd group, trans women, plus cislunar women accepting trans women only, (where – if necessary – male counsellors may be used?).

    Cislunar women accepting trans women attendees (plus male counselling?), may attend BOTH groups – and thus twice as many sessions.

    Everybody else, while limited to only attending their appropriate group, gets equal access to half of all sessions. With no need for legal bills, nor travelling I.T.O. unfeasible distances. Simples!

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