LimeCulture & King’s College London host Knowledge & Network: An Event for ISVAs

On Thursday 25 April 2013, LimeCulture and King’s College London jointly hosted ‘Knowledge & Network:  an Event for Independent Sexual Violence Advisers (ISVAs)’.

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There’s an awful lot of preparation, effort and planning that goes into a successful conference, and we at LimeCulture tried to make sure that the Event was as good as it possibly could be for the ISVAs who attended. We asked what ISVAs wanted from the Event and we tried to do exactly as they asked, while trying to get the mix right between fun, networking and learning.

The Event started at a leisurely 10am with the hope that those travelling to London would not be forced to stay over the night before in order to attend the full Event. This seemed to work quite well as even the ISVAs traveling from as far away as Middlesbrough and Devon did not miss any of the keynote speech! ISVAs came from far and wide and represented a range of organisations including voluntary and community sector specialist sexual violence services, Sexual Assault Referral Centres (SARCs), Local Authorities, Police and NHS. It was the first time that ISVAs had been brought together in this way, and although not all ISVAs were able to attend the event, a significant number of the ISVA workforce came to join us.

Professor Susan Lea chairing the Event for ISVAs
Professor Susan Lea chairing the Event for ISVAs

The Event was flawlessly chaired by Professor Susan Lea from King’s prestigious Institute of Psychiatry (IoP) who kicked off the event by warmly welcoming all of the ISVAs to the Strand Campus. Professor Lea explained the increased recognition of the importance of providing victims with advocacy and support and the growing support for the role of the ISVA. Professor Lea explained that the idea for hosting an Event to bring together ISVAs came about following the ISVA Focus groups run by the Home Office in the autumn last year. The focus groups highlighted that many ISVAs felt they lacked opportunities for ongoing training and development and that many ISVAs felt isolated in their role with little or no professional or peer support. LimeCulture and King’s College London decided to jointly host a learning event that would bring together the ISVA workforce and give them the opportunity to hear from leading professionals discuss topics relevant to the ISVA role.

Baroness Stern, author of the report ‘How Rape Complains are Handled by Public Authorities in England and Wales’ gave the keynote speech. Baroness Stern started by saying that she was thrilled to be invited to speak to a room full of ISVAs, something that has not been done before, and that during her report she had been very impressed by the ISVAs that she had come across. Baroness Stern reiterated the important role that ISVAS have in supporting victims of rape and that they play a crucial role in the criminal justice process. Baroness Stern called for all the ISVAs to unite as a workforce and organise themselves to make sure that their collective voice can be heard. An inspirational keynote speech from Baroness Stern, a great supporter of support for victims of sexual violence.

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Baroness Stern giving Keynote Speech at the ISVA Event.

Professor Lea welcomed our next speaker Christian Papaleontiou, who is Head of the Interpersonal Violence Team in the Violent Crime Unit at the Home Office. Christian’s presentation focused on the policy context around sexual violence. Importantly, Christian said the Home Office was committed to supporting and protecting victims of sexual violence and that they recognised that ISVAs play a pivotal role in this support.

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The Home Office are committed to supporting victims of sexual violence and they recognise the pivotal role that ISVAs have in this process

After the break, Bernie Ryan who is currently Chair of the National SARC Advisory Board and Manager of St Mary’s Sexual Assault Referral Centre, spoke about the importance of ISVAs working in partnership with SARCs. Bernie explained that ISVA service provision should be an integrated part of the pathway for SARC patients. The next speaker was Carlene Firmin, from the Office of the Children’s Commissioner who talked about sexual violence in the context of gangs. Carlene explained the role of girls in gangs and urged the ISVAs to consider the possibility of gang-association of some of their clients. Specifically, Carlene said even if the ISVAs are not supporting clients from one of the 30 gang-affected areas (identified by the Home Office Ending Gang and Youth Violence Programme), ISVAs should consider the impact of gang-assocaition on all of their clients as gangs can be far reaching. The final speaker in the morning session was Dr Sam Warner, a Chartered and Consultant Clinical Psychologist. Sam’s presentation about working with children and adults with mental health problems injected a new level of energy and enthusiasm into the room in a very unexpected way which included retelling the story of Sleeping Beauty! Sam’s presentation about how people learn to cope, survive and recover after experiencing sexual violence was very informative and memorable.

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Bernie Ryan explaining why ISVAs should work in partnership with Sexual Assault Referral Centre
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Carlene Firmin explaining sexual violence in the context of gangs. Carlene urges all ISVAS to consider whether their clients might be associated to a gang
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Dr Sam Warner explaining how victims of sexual violence learn to cope, survive and recover from sexual violence.

The break from speakers and workshops over lunchtime gave the ISVAs an excellent opportunity to network with each other and meet up with existing and new colleagues. The room was buzzing with conversation and interesting discussions across the round tables in the Great Hall.

There were 3 workshops arranged for the ISVAs at the Event and they were organised in such a way to allow for each ISVA to attend all 3 workshops. Workshop 1 was hosted by Charlotte Triggs, Senior Policy Adviser from the Crown Prosecutions Service (CPS). This workshop was called ‘Understanding CPS Decision Making’ and explained the process that CPS Prosecutors undertake when deciding whether or not to prosecute in cases of rape. In the workshop ISVAs had an opportunity to apply the information in relation to different case scenarios to determine whether or not a charging is appropriate. Workshop 2 was titled ‘Are we really aware of the risks?’ and was hosted by Jeff Goodright, a serving police officer and training consultant. Jeff’s workshop introduced the digital communication world that we now live in and the potential risks that this carries, particularly in relation to those at risk of abuse. It really was an eye-opening workshop! Workshop 3 was hosted by Shelly Stoops, the interim Manager of SAFEPlace Merseyside, the SARC based in Liverpool. Shelly’s workshop, titled  ‘Not an Occupational Hazard- Working with sex workers who experience sexual violence’ encapsulated her vast experience of working as an ISVA and providing support to sex workers who have been raped or sexually assaulted. A fascinating workshop that provided practical examples of how to support sex workers.

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Crown Prosecution Service, Senior Policy Adviser, Charlotte Triggs explaining how the CPS make decisions about prosecuting cases of rape
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Jeff Goodright explaining the advances in the world of digital communication and the risks that this could have for those who have been abused.
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Shelly Stoops hosting a workshop about working with sex workers who have experienced sexual violence
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ISVAs listening to the speakers at the Knowledge and Network Event
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ISVAs listening to the speakers at Knowledge and Network Event for ISVAs

Professor Susan Lea closed the event by thanking all of the ISVAs  for coming together to network and share knowledge. She reiterated the important role that the ISVA workforce has in providing vital support for victims of sexual violence and the need for them to coordinate their responses and organise themselves with one collective voice. Finally, LimeCulture’s Kim Doyle, ended the day by saying that she hoped that the Event had met the expectations of the ISVAs and that she hoped it had provided a valuable opportunity to learn from one another and meet other ISVAs.

LimeCulture would like to thank King’s College London for their support in organising and hosting this wonderful Event. We would also like to thank Geoff Reardon Photography for documenting the Event by capturing it with fantastic images.

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ISVAs attending the Event have the opportunity to network

Advice & support for victims of sexual violence: Could it be better?

On Saturday 13 April, the Guardian published an article by Amelia Gentleman called ‘Prosecuting sexual assault: Raped all over again’. The article centres on the experiences of  victims of sexual violence in the court room during a rape case and particularly,  how deeply unpleasant it can be for them. The article was prompted by the death of Frances Andrade in 2012, whose experience in the witness box left her feeling violated and like she’d been raped all over again. Sadly, Frances Andrade killed herself within days of the court case. The article asks whether it is time that changes were made for prosecuting rape cases.

The conviction rate in rape cases is an issue that is often hotly debated and has prompted governments (of all colours) to say they want to do more to help victims come forward and peruse their cases through the criminal justice system. Although these figures are not always properly reported or understood- it is true that the numbers of rape cases that make it into a court room is much lower than the number of rapes that actually occur and the number of rapes that end up in a conviction is significantly lower still. There are many reasons why the conviction rate is low, but LimeCulture firmly believe that if victims are able to access effective support and advice, then there is a chance that we might be able to increase that conviction rate.

The Home Office currently fund 87 Independent Sexual Violence Advisers (ISVAs), who are victim-focused advocates that work with people who have experienced sexual violence to access the services they need. Although most ISVAs will also provide advice and support to the victims who choose not to go to court, a hugely important aspect of the ISVA role  is to support the victim through the criminal justice system. Certainly, the thinking behind the Home Office’s push to increase the number of ISVAs was based on the notion that if victims are effectively supported, then our attrition rates should fall and victims will peruse justice for their abuse, hopefully ending in a better conviction rate.

So, if this thinking is right, then it is absolutely essential that the support given to victims is of the highest standard. LimeCulture is a massive advocate for ISVAs, who we believe do a hugely important role in supporting victims. LimeCulture have now trained 3 cohorts of ISVAs since September 2011 (our 4th cohort of ISVAS begin their training in June) and we believe that all of these ISVAs are providing excellent services to the clients they support. Sadly, we know that not all victims can access ISVA support as there are not enough of them across the country. Even more worrying is that where victims are lucky enough to have access to an ISVA, the level of support available to them will vary significantly depending on where they happen to be in the country.  The reasons for this huge variation are discussed in our earlier blog ‘ISVAs: Raining the standards for victims of sexual violence’.

There are very few articles about ISVAs and the incredible work that they do- so many people (including professionals working in the field of sexual violence) do not really know or understand what ISVAs do or how to access their support. So when Amelia Gentleman’s article makes a reference to an ISVA, we were really pleased. Its great to see the work of an ISVA included in articles…this will help raise their profile. Unfortunately, our pleasure soon turned to disappointment when we realised that the client in the article had been given inaccurate advice by her ISVA.

Giving clients inaccurate information can have devastating consequences. The victim in the guardian article was told not to have counselling until after her trial. This meant that she may not have access to all the support that she needed. Sadly, we know that this advice is commonly given by professionals to victims whose cases are being prosecuted and are awaiting trial. This advice is incorrect. Indeed a victim can access counselling before a trial but the therapist must follow the pre-trial therapy guidelines.

These guidelines are ‘intended to be helpful for all practitioners, especially those in the criminal justice system, NHS, social services departments and voluntary organisations‘. So it is alarming that so many professionals providing support to victims seem not to understand these guidelines and in some cases don’t even know that they exist.

After reading the guardian article, we tweeted that more needs to be done to ensure that victims of sexual violence are receiving the right advice and support from professionals to help them through the criminal justice system. We received load of responses and although every reply tweet and direct message agreed with that sentiment, we were alarmed at just how many people tweeted that victims of sexual violence should not be made to choose between counselling AND pursuing justice. We were alarmed that many people seemed to be of the belief that a victim of sexually violence could could not do both. More alarming is that these tweets came from professionals- the very people who are providing advice and support to victims.

If we are to try to increase the numbers of cases that go to court and ultimately improve the conviction rate, then we really do need to properly support the victims. Surely the starting point to making this a reality is to make sure that the advice they are given is accurate? Completely accurate. Only then can a victim make an informed decision about whether they or not they want to report their abuse and go through the court process.

LimeCulture is very concerned about the lack of knowledge in the sexual violence sector about the court process and the justice system. We can’t say for sure whether the outcome would have been different for the woman in the article had she been given proper advice about what support she could have accessed but we can be absolutely sure she deserved to be given the highest standard of support, and that includes being given accurate information.

LimeCulture believes that more needs to be done to raise the standards of the support provided to people who have been raped or sexually assaulted. More needs to be done to increase the knowledge of the people who provide the support and advice. We believe these services need to be quality assured to ensure they are fit for purpose and make sure that the people who represent  ‘the victim’s voice’ actually know what they are talking about.

Disclosure of ISVAs records – Can you help?

LimeCulture has recently been contacted by a number of ISVAs who have been asked to disclose their records about their clients to the CPS. Whilst this is always something that might be requested, it should not happen in every case – it should be seen as the exception rather than the rule.

It is not clear why the requests are being made. One ISVA told us that she thought that the barrister in the case believed she was a counsellor i.e. her role had been misunderstood.

LimeCulture is keen to hear from other ISVAs who have found themselves in this situation and in particular what the outcome of showing the notes to the CPS has been.

Please email if you can help.

The importance of training and development when working with victims of sexual violence

LimeCulture believes professional training and development are the key to improving the response to victims of sexual violence.

Sexual offences are notoriously under-reported and therefore it extremely difficult to obtain reliable information on the extent of sexual offences because the figures are heavily influenced by the willingness of victims to report. The true prevalence of sexual offences is likely to be significantly higher than the numbers of offences reported or recorded by the police.

There are a range of reasons why victims of sexual violence do not come forward and report their abuse. Sometimes it is just to painful to discuss, there may be feelings of shame or embarrassment, they may not want to involve the police or they may be scared of not being believed. What we do know is that all victims of sexual violence deserve the highest level of care and support, whether they chose to disclose their abuse or not. If they do decide to take the brave decision to tell somebody else about their abuse, and if that person is a professional, then they should expect to receive a professional response. Unfortunately, we know this doesn’t always happen.

Victims of sexual violence present to a wide variety of organisations, and at varying intervals after their assault. Many mainstream services will be dealing with these people, although the fact they have experienced sexual violence may not be apparent and go unnoticed. If they are to receive the care and support they need, it is vital for professionals to be able to identify and respond to their needs appropriately. Professionals need to feel confident in supporting people who have experienced sexual violence, whether that is making an onward referral to a specialist sexual violence service or providing them with support within their own service. Effective training will support this.

Training presents a prime opportunity to expand the knowledge and skill base of the professional. The goal of training professionals around sexual violence should center on increasing awareness about the needs of people who have experienced sexual violence and what support they might need, with particular focus on how to identify, manage and refer people on to the services that they need.  LimeCulture believe that training for people working with vulnerable people should also develop their skills around risk identification, assessment and management, documentation and record keeping- particularly as supporting victims of sexual violence can sometimes have a legal aspect to some of the cases. LimeCulture has trained lots of people whose job it is to work with and support victims of sexual violence. Many know their jobs inside out and are excellent at what they do. However, there is always more to learn, more to think about and more that can be done to support people….you don’t know what you don’t know.

Unfortunately, we have found that many employers – particularly cash strapped services- find training and development to be expensive and do not allow their staff to attend such programmes. Many of our trainees have said their employers complain that they are missing out on work time while attending training, which may delay cause delays or create cover problems. LimeCulture believe that despite the potential drawbacks, training and development provides both the service as a whole and the individual professional with benefits that make the cost and time a worthwhile investment.

A professional who receives the necessary training is better able to perform their role and understand their responsibilities. They will become more aware of the importance of safe practices and boundaries. The training may also build the professional’s confidence because they have a stronger understanding of the roles and responsibilities of their job – and those of other professionals. This confidence may push them to perform even better and think of new ideas that help them excel at their role and ultimately, provide a better response or service to the victim who needs support. Continuous training also keeps your employees on the cutting edge of developments, changes and improvements- which can only be a good thing.

Working with and supporting victims of sexual violence – people whose lives have been shattered and are often the most vulnerable in our society – is an extremely tough job to do. The impact on the professional can be significant. LimeCulture firmly believes that professionals with access to training and development have the advantage over those professionals who do not. The investment in training and development shows the employees they are valued and that they have a supportive workplace. Employees who feel appreciated and challenged through training opportunities are more likely to feel more satisfaction toward their jobs.

LimeCulture training brings together professionals from a range of organisations, services and places across the UK. Importantly this means that professionals are able to discuss and share their own unique experiences with people doing a similar job. We have found that professionals learn and develop just as much from talking and discussing things with other members of their own workforce. The benefits of professional development through peer support or networking should not be underestimated.


LimeCulture offers a range of training and development programmes for professionals working with victims of sexual violence. Please visit our website for more information about our courses and workshops.

LimeCulture and King’s College London are jointly hosting Knowledge and Network: An Event for ISVAs on Thursday 25 April 2013 in London. The aim of the event is to bring together the ISVA workforce so that they can learn from leading professionals in particular areas that are relevant to the ISVA role, as well as learning from each others experiences. If you would like to book a places at this event, please email