13/05/2012 18:11 BST | Updated 13/07/2012 06:12 BST

Rochdale Grooming Case: What About the Victims and Witnesses?

Last week saw Britain gripped by an appalling court case where nine men were accused and convicted of grooming and abusing five young women.

Although there has been a lot of attention given to the offenders and how they managed to get away with their horrific crimes for so long, like the Milly Dowler trial, little has been said of the trauma that the young girls suffered for the second time - when they had to relive their experiences in court with the offenders sitting so close by.

Giving evidence in court is distressing enough for adults but for young, vulnerable women who have been the victims of gang rape, it is undoubtedly a harrowing experience. A lot depends on witnesses as the criminal justice system relies on them to give sound, honest evidence to make sure that offenders are brought to justice.

This is why Victim Support's Witness Service is crucial. Staff and volunteers play a vital role in helping witnesses throughout the trial. In this particular case alone we spent over 200 hours helping the five victims and other witnesses get through the trial - starting as early as last July. This involved working with their appointed police officers to organise pre-trial visits so they knew what to expect on the day and help lessen the anxiety beforehand.

We made sure that the victims were given special measures such as being given a secure route to the court so they didn't bump into the offenders and giving evidence via video links. Unfortunately as not all the offenders were in police custody during the trial, one of the victims did see him in the court building and was very upset. Our Witness Service volunteer helped her deal with this and reported the incident to the CPS and her police officer.

It is the little things that make the biggest differences. Simply knowing what to expect in court and that someone is there for you to offload onto afterward, can help witnesses find the strength to sit in the witness box and give evidence that will help convict the offender.

We need to ensure that this kind of support is given to all victims and witnesses of crime going to court. The government is currently looking at responses to its plans for victims and witnesses and we are very concerned that if they go ahead, victims like these five vulnerable girls may not get this level of support in the future.

We are very concerned about plans for the new police and crime commissioners to organise and fund virtually all help for victims and witnesses. This would mean patchy local services rather than the current national backbone of support and the potential waste of £21million of tax payers' money on red tape and form filling.

Victims and witnesses deserve more. They have already been through enough and we can't abandon them in their time of need. These young girls needed every bit of support given to them during court and without it, who knows if the offenders would have been convicted and given the jail terms they deserved?

If you want to persuade the government to rethink its plans for victims and witnesses you can sign our e-petition - and help to ensure everyone continues to get the support they need.