Rape victim sues charity for admitting trans woman to support group

Rape victim sues sexual violence charity after she suffered panic attack and was left feeling unable to speak because trans woman began attending support group meetings

  • ‘Sarah’, in her mid 40s, was abused as a child before being raped while in her 20s
  • She had been benefitting from visiting the Brighton-based Survivors’ Network 
  • But she felt unable to speak and had panic attack after trans woman joined group
  • A woman is suing a rape crisis charity for allowing a transgender woman to attend the same support group as her, claiming it left her too uncomfortable to speak and caused her to suffer a panic attack. 

    The claimant, known only by her alias ‘Sarah’, was abused by a family friend as a child and by a man she knew when she was in her 20s. 

    The mother-of-two said she ultimately had to stop going to the sessions, run by the Survivors’ Network, and is now suing the Brighton-based charity for indirect discrimination, victimisation and harassment.

    The action will be a test case following the recently updated guidance from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) regarding trans people’s access to certain services.

    In April, the EHRC said that in certain places, such as hospital wards or changing rooms, single sex services can be offered which ‘prevent, limit or modify’ transgender people from attending, if it is ‘a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim’ and balances the needs of service users.

    But Sarah’s lawyer, Kate Lea, said more clarification is needed from the courts over the issue, telling the BBC: ‘We see this very much as a test case. We need further guidance in this area.’

    She added: ‘We recognise that there are really difficult decisions to be made by service providers.’ 

    Mother of two Sarah, not her real name, joined Brighton-based Survivors' Network. But she said she felt the trust of the therapy sessions were violated by a trans woman (stock image)

    Mother of two Sarah, not her real name, joined Brighton-based Survivors’ Network. But she said she felt the trust of the therapy sessions were violated by a trans woman (stock image)

    Sarah, now in her mid 40s, said that she thinks Survivors’ Network should have offered separate groups for trans and cisgender victims, adding: ‘I think my case is about women’s rights.’ 

    But the Brighton-based charity has said it will fight against the claim as trans women ‘are welcome into all of our women-only spaces’, adding that Sarah knew of their trans-inclusive policy when she first began attending.  

    Lawyers for Sarah argue the charity failed to meet the needs of all victims of sexual violence by not offering sessions strictly for women who were born female. 

    The case is being brought under the Equality Act. 

    Sarah said: ‘I think women have sex-based rights and protections and these are under threat at the moment from trans activism.’

    Sarah said she had been benefitting from the sessions before a new member arrived presenting as typically male and donning stereotypically male clothing. 

    ‘I was a bit taken aback. I decided I wasn’t going to speak that week because I wasn’t comfortable,’ she said.

    Sarah, now in her mid 40s, said that she thinks Survivors' Network should have offered separate groups for trans and cisgender victims, adding: 'I think my case is about women's rights.' (stock image)

    Sarah, now in her mid 40s, said that she thinks Survivors’ Network should have offered separate groups for trans and cisgender victims, adding: ‘I think my case is about women’s rights.’ (stock image) 

    ‘I don’t trust men because I have been raped by a man. I’ve been sexually abused by men. And I just don’t necessarily trust that men are always who they say they are.’ 

    Despite being uncomfortable, she claims the person running the session asked her to speak to the group. 

    ‘I felt manipulated and coerced into talking,’ she said. ‘When I left the session I had a panic attack, I was absolutely distraught.’

    Survivors’ Network told the BBC it has yet to receive any documents pertaining to the legal action. 

    It rejected Sarah’s suggestion that she was forced to speak to the group, saying every survivor is given a handbook which clearly states they should only talk if they feel comfortable. 

    It added: ‘In both the assessment and in the handbook, it is explained that all women, including trans women, are welcome in the women’s only group. 

    Sarah, now married and in her 40s, was abused by a family friend when a child, and later raped by a man she knew who persuaded her to take drugs (stock image)

    Sarah, now married and in her 40s, was abused by a family friend when a child, and later raped by a man she knew who persuaded her to take drugs (stock image)

    ‘The claimant was made aware of Survivors’ Network’s trans-inclusive position prior to attending the group.’

    MailOnline has contacted the charity for comment.  

    Sarah said she is not transphobic but felt a trans woman changed the dynamic and atmosphere of the support group. 

    She said: ‘I think it’s fantastic that trans survivors feel that there is a safe space for them that they can go and seek help. But for me personally, a mixed sex space doesn’t work.

    ‘I think having just one additional group for women who are born female would be the answer.’

    Survivors’ Network said in a statement: ‘Continuing to deliver our services supporting survivors of sexual violence and abuse is of paramount importance and we want to reassure all our current survivors and anyone seeking support that we are still here for them.’ 

    Survivors’ Network was set up in 1990 by former child abuse victims, and was recognised for its work when the Duke and Duchess of Sussex paid a high-profile visit in 2018. It is funded by the Government, local authorities and the NHS.

    In written evidence to a Commons select committee in 2020, its chief executive Jay Breslaw opposed tightening rules on single-sex spaces, adding that her charity ‘strongly feel that the use of women-only spaces by trans women should be actively encouraged’.

    Sarah previously told of her ordeal to the Mail on Sunday last November. 

    In a statement at the time, Survivors’ Network said: ‘We are a feminist organisation and we support survivors of all genders.

    ‘Survivors of trauma and sexual violence, irrespective of gender identity, need support, care and belief. With 30 years of expert knowledge, we are well equipped to offer this in a safe, survivor-led and empowerment-based way.

    ‘Trans-inclusive feminism is key to our values and central to our services as a rape crisis centre.’