Rape crisis centre Survivors’ Network sued for helping trans people

A protester holds a sign that reads: 'No feminism without trans women'

Trans-inclusive rape crisis centre Survivors’ Network is being sued for after allowing a trans women to access its all-women services.

Survivors’ Network is a Brighton-based charity that supports sexual violence and abuse survivors of any gender, and provides counselling, drop-in sessions, support groups, legal advice and a helpline.

It is fiercely trans-inclusive and notes in its trans inclusion statement: “Trans-inclusive feminism is key to our values and central to our services as a rape crisis centre. Nearly one in five trans people have experienced sexual assault or the threat of sexual assault and we are committed to supporting our trans siblings in their survival journey.”

In 2018 Survivors’ Network supported 1,035 survivors of sexual violence, of which 31 were trans and non-binary, according to its most recent annual review.

But now, a discrimination case is being brought against the charity by Sarah Summers, represented by Didlaw, which announced on Tuesday (3 May) that proceedings have been issued in the Brighton County Court.

Summers, a rape survivor, joined a Survivors’ Network women’s peer support group, which she at first found helpful.

However, according to a press release by Didlaw, when a trans woman and fellow survivor joined the group, Summers felt “deeply uncomfortable”.

When Summers expressed her feelings to the charity, she was offered one-to-one counselling and told that if she preferred, she could seek services elsewhere. Survivors’ Network, in line with its trans inclusion policy, refused to create a group only for cisgender women.

According to Didlaw: “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.”

In a statement on Wednesday (4 May), the charity said: “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.”

Survivors’ Network is being represented pro bono by the law firm Reed Smith.

The charity reassured “all of our current survivors and anyone seeking support that we are still here for you”, and added: “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 Equality Act does not mandate that trans people are excluded from single-sex spaces

Under the Equality Act 2010, both sex and gender reassignment are protected characteristics.

Exemptions can be made to equalities law only when they serve a demonstrable purpose that could not be achieved easily by other means – a “proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim”.

Examples given by the EHRC include “privacy, decency, to prevent trauma or to ensure health and safety”.

While exemptions are permitted under these conditions, this Survivors’ Network case will decide for the first time whether these exemptions should be mandated, and whether service providers can be made to exclude trans people from single-sex spaces.

TransActual Director jane fae told PinkNews: “I am sickened by today’s news. This is bullying of the worst sort designed to exclude trans people from society.

“What we are seeing now are people who just a couple of years back claimed they had absolutely ‘no problem with trans people; they just had concerns about changes to the Gender Recognition Act’ working systematically to ensure that trans people are denied the ability to function within society. They are looking to push us to the margins, at which point they will declare ‘mission accomplished’.”

“This is being done in the most cynical way possible,” fae continued.

“They are spending eye-watering amounts of money that could be used to achieve so much for women and LGBTQ+ folks on high profile court cases with little chance of success. In this case they are tracking a rape crisis charity. The impact will not just be on trans people, but on all victims.

“Yet their calculation is that many smaller organisations will fold, rather than risk the costs of such a case.

“This raises major questions over where this money comes from. In addition to resisting cases of this sort, there is urgent need for a far-reaching investigation into the source of funding for these legal actions.”