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Hollywood stars Keira Knightley and Emma Watson hail £200,000 grant to fund a Northern Ireland rape crisis service `huge step forward'

Keira Knightley said: `To be able to fund the first rape crisis service provision in Northern Ireland for 12 years feels like a huge step forward.' Ian West/PA

HOLLYWOOD stars and women's rights activists Keira Knightley and Emma Watson have hailed a £200,000 grant to fund a new rape crisis service a "huge step forward" to resolve the "dire situation" in Northern Ireland.

They were speaking out after the Justice and Equality Fund, set up as a result of the Time's Up and #MeToo movements, awarded £200,000 to Women's Aid NI.

The money will be used to fund the newly established rape crisis service, which is expected to be fully operational by the end of this year.

Following the high profile Ulster Rugby rape trial, a number of victims' groups jointly announced their intention to re-establish a regional service.

Once up and running, it service will work alongside Northern Ireland's national 24 Hour Domestic & Sexual Violence Helpline to support all victims of rape and sexual violence.

`Pirates of the Caribbean' star and donor to the Justice and Equality Fund Keira Knightley said: "To be able to fund the first rape crisis service provision in Northern Ireland for 12 years feels like a huge step forward."

Emma Watson - Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter film series - who has donated £1 million to the fund, said the north's lack of a rape crisis service for the last 12 years was "an incredibly dire situation, now alleviated by the tireless efforts of organisers and your donations".

Jan Melia of Women's Aid said the organisation is "thrilled" at the funding boost.

The 24 Hour Domestic & Sexual Violence Helpline is open 365 days a year: 0808 802 1414, email 24hrsupport@dvhelpline.org, or text SUPPORT to 07797 805 839.

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