An Independent Sexual Violence Advocate (ISVA) is trained to look after the needs of victims of sexual violence, both historical and recent incidents. The role is primarily there to help survivors understand how the criminal justice process works and what other support is available to them.
If a victim does choose to go down the route of reporting to the police, the ISVA will assist them to understand what happens next in terms of reporting process, the court system and sometimes (depending on the acuteness of the incident) the importance and process of forensic DNA retrieval.
By contacting an ISVA this does not mean a survivor is expected to report to the police. The choice is always with the victim and whatever decision they make this will be respected by the advocate.
Our ISVA covers Portsmouth City and works very closely in partnership with the Early Intervention Project ISVA based within the city council team.*
What our ISVA has to say:
As an ISVA I offer practical and emotional support, advice & information for victims of rape and sexual abuse. There are many challenges facing victims and survivors of rape and sexual violence seeking justice in the criminal courts.
I work with survivors through the criminal justice system, providing individually tailored support when and where it’s most needed. I support women and men from the age of 16 years old from first disclosure and those who are contemplating reporting to police, through disclosure and through a police investigation.
If a case goes to trial I support the survivor through the Criminal Justice System and at court. I listen and assess the client’s risk and individual needs. I safety plan and risk assess as necessary.
I advocate on a client’s behalf to access support from other agencies such as:
- Health services
- CAB -Benefits
- Social Care -CP meetings
- Legal advice
My role is:
- Increase their safety, those of their children and family
- Inform them of choices that are available
- Respect their decisions
- Keep the client informed of developments in their case
- Support the client before, during and after any court case
- Advocate on their behalf
- Liaise with the police, courts, Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and other public agencies
- Create a safe environment to disclose sensitive and personal information
- Support them in whatever choices they make
- To build a professional rapport with all clients
CASE STUDY 1
I took a call in the office, from a woman who explained that she had found our number online. I asked her how I could help and she remained silent. I sensed her breathing on the end of the line, and had an innate feeling that she needed time, time to be heard and time to tell her story. I reassured her that she can take all the time she needs and that she had been really courageous in making the call today. She found her voice and started to tell me that a year ago she had been repeatedly raped by a man she had previously been in a relationship with.
Her voice was faltering and there were silences in between, and I knew that she needed to be given reassurance and the space to be heard. I told her that I did not need any details of the offences, but I wanted to create safe space where she could disclose this sensitive information.
I explained that to enable me to know how I can best support her and assess her risk and needs, I would like to go through some paperwork with her, including consent and confidentiality.
I met with the client that same week and we continue to speak or meet every week. One of my main roles was to build her trust and to empower her to take back some of the power and control that had been taken so violently from her, by someone she had once loved and trusted.
She has good days and bad days, which she recognises, and I have accompanied her to see her GP upon her request. My role there is to support her to attend, and to be her advocate, as she fears that she will not be able to find the words to explain how she is feeling and to be able to ask for what she wants from the doctor.
Currently, she is contemplating whether to make a report to the police. At this stage, she knows I am here for her, and alongside the weekly Portsmouth Abuse and Rape counselling service (PARCS)**, she is building her confidence and starting to consider her own needs now, and look ahead, rather than being rooted in the past and those feelings of what was done to her.
CASE STUDY 2
I received a Police referral through the secure email inbox with contact details for a woman who had been sexually abused as a child for many years, by her stepfather.
On first contact, I introduced myself and explained my role as an ISVA, to support her practically, emotionally, to sign post her to relevant agencies, and to advocate for her on her behalf. I explained that I would support her through the police investigation and though court if the perpetrator was charged.
This woman has lived with this for many years and has recently found the courage to tell her story. The impact on her direct family members has been significant; none of them knew about the abuse she received as a child. On reporting to the police she tells me she has found an inner peace, that now she has handed on this ‘terrible secret’ to the professionals.
Some of her family members have been interviewed and will be witnesses in court, if the perpetrator is charged. We met regularly at the Treetops Centre SARC, (sexual assault referral centre), a neutral place where she felt safe and able to express her fears and concerns.
This woman works full time and her manager is aware of the police investigation. There has been some unwanted indirect contact from extended family members, via social media, telling her to withdraw the allegations, but my client has acted quickly and sensibly, sending these messages direct to her police officer at Amberstone, the sexual offences unit in Portsmouth.
I work very closely with the unit at Amberstone, and when my client wanted an update on the investigation, the three of us met up to offer her reassurance whilst the police officer could tell her exactly what stage the investigation had reached.
Last week my client heard from the police that the perpetrator was being charged with the offences against her as a child. She rang me immediately, so we could talk things through, and explain each step as it would evolve, through the hearings and eventually at trial.
I have organised a pre-trial visit with her so we will attend a week before the trial so she can see the lay out of the court and meet the witness care staff. She has elected to have special measures, so she will have a curtain to shield her from the perpetrator when in court.
At the trial she has asked me to be with her. I will be there, by her side, supporting her. During the trial I will sit behind her, and am on hand to accompany her if she wants a break at any stage during the proceedings. She is ready and prepared to stand up in court and tell her story. All she wants is justice; I feel privileged to be by her side.
*Funded by the Home Office until March 2017
**ISVA’s rely heavily on specialist rape crisis centres like PARCS their work is invaluable in the process of healing for survivors