1.What is an ISVA?
Independent Sexual Violence Advocates/Advisors (ISVAs) are trained to provide emotional and practical support to survivors of rape, sexual abuse and sexual assault who have reported to the police or are considering reporting to the police.
2. What inspired you to become an ISVA?
AB: – I have been engaged with the violence against women’s movement for many years and spent several years supporting women on a Rape Crisis helpline. I have always been concerned about the way in which many women who choose to report sexual violence to the police spoke of what a daunting and overwhelming process it is and passionately believe that more needs to be done to support women going through this process.
LC: – I have worked as an advocate in a previous role including working with asylum seeking women and young people who have been trafficked into the country for the purpose of sexual exploitation. I wanted to be part of a movement that challenges the stigma and silence around sexual violence and felt that an ISVA at Rape Crisis would allow me to do that.
3. What training did you complete to become an ISVA?
AB: – I did the Postgraduate Certificate in Advocacy for Victims of Sexual Violence at the University of Worcester, which I completed in 2015.Â I have also just started a new Rape Crisis England and Wales programme for ISVAs and recently completed the Parents Against Child Sexual Exploitation (PACE) programme for Advanced Practitioners of Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) and the Lime Culture Advanced Development Programme: Supporting Children and Young Adults.
LC: – I did the Lime Culture accredited ISVA Development Programme which I completed in July 2017. I also have a national youth advocacy qualification, am trained to a level 2 Office of the Immigration Service Commissioner (OISC) and am currently training to be a barrister.
4. What does your average working day look like?
SARSVL believes in empowering women to make informed choices and this ethos underpins all our work so women who come to us to discuss whether or not they should report to the police will be provided with all the necessary information to inform their decision; we do not give advice but information.
Our day begins by responding to our emails and texts and following up on any outstanding matters with the police and other agencies. Most days we receive new referrals from a range of agencies so we make contact with new referrals to introduce ourselves, explain our role, discuss our service and arrange to book them in for a first appointment.
Most days we have client appointments, these take place at our central Leeds offices and usually last for an hour. Some days we see up to four clients each day where we offer emotional and practical support, information about the criminal justice process and explain what happens at each stage of that process. We also offer psycho-educational work about sexual violence, the common myths and stereotypes and the impacts of this type of trauma.
We work in a multi-agency setting and almost all of our clients are already engaged in the criminal justice process of reporting to the police and many have other agencies involved in their support network. As such, in between appointments we will liaise with many external agencies about our clients to ensure that they are being fully supported. This includes the police to get updates on investigations on our clients’ behalf.
When cases do go to court, we arrange pre-trial court visits with Leeds Crown Court Witness Service, so that the women we support are familiar with the court lay out and how things will work on the day they give evidence. On the day of trial, we accompany our clients to court to ensure that they have emotional support.
Other aspects of our role involve training other agencies about the work that we do and how we can work together to support their clients who may be considering reporting to the police.
5. What’s your favourite aspect of your role?
It is really important that women have a safe women only space in which they can discuss their feelings and ask questions knowing that they are believed and without fear of judgement or being directed as to what they should do and/or how they respond. Seeing women empowered to take back control of their lives and to start to thrive is undoubtedly the favourite aspect of the role.
6. What’s the hardest/most challenging thing about your role?
Some women feel that their experiences of reporting to the police have been negative and it is hard to witness these experiences, particularly when women do not get justice when their cases are no further actioned by the police or they proceed to trial and result in a not guilty verdict.
One of the hardest aspects of the role is also that women often ask what they will be asked in court, which we cannot answer for two reasons. Firstly, we deliberately do not familiairise ourselves with the details of the case as this would compromise our independence. Secondly, even if we did know the details we could not prepare women in this way as this would be considered to be coaching.
7. What’s your greatest achievement in relation to your role?
The SARSVL ISVA service is relatively new and the greatest achievement has been setting up and establishing a woman-centred service tailored around women’s individual support needs who wish to report to the police. We can’t take credit for the improvements we see in women’s lives as they themselves do the hard work, we provide a safe space for them to talk about their feelings and facilitate linking them in with other agencies, however, it is women’s resilience that enables them to make the changes they want to.
8. What’s great about being an ISVA at Support After Rape and Sexual Violence Leeds?
Working in a women only feminist organisation that is independent from the Police and other agencies. We have a dedicated women only accessible space in the center of the city and our trustees are committed to keeping the service going.
9. Why is the advocacy service so important for women in Leeds?
Reporting to the police can be a very difficult experience and most women have no idea of what to expect nor how the system works. For example, we often get asked what legal representation women should source when in actual fact, it is only the perpetrator who needs a solicitor. It is important that women can access the kind of support we offer so that they receive as much information as they want at their pace and feel well supported throughout.
10. If there’s one thing you could change about your role, what would it be?
One of the biggest issues facing the voluntary sector is the insecurity about future funding.
11. How would you like to see the ISVA role developed?
The ISVA role is not widely known about and whilst programmes like Broadchurch raised awareness of the role, we would like to see a far greater awareness of what is it that we do which in turn would enable those considering reporting to the police to approach us for support to do so.
12. What advice would you give to other ISVAs in training?
Make links with other ISVAs in other organisations across the country, this will be invaluable for sharing information and asking questions when you are unsure of something.