Ishah Jawaid is an ISVA at Women and Girls Network, West London Rape Crisis.
Ishah works with women and girls in West London that have experienced any form or sexual violence, including: rape, child sexual abuse, gang related sexual violence, prostitution, trafficking, or any other sexual violence experience that has had a negative impact. She can offer support for current or past experiences and is currently working with 15 clients.
Ishah has been an ISVA for just over 16 months. She started the LimeCulture ISVA Development Programme in October 2013 and has one more module to complete before she is accredited.
What does your average workday consist of?
‘WGN believes strongly in empowering women and girls to make positive informed choices, working holistically, in a multicultural and feminist setting that puts the needs of women and girls first. The work I do as an ISVA, incorporates all of these values and strongly influences the way I work with my clients. There is no day that is the same at West London Rape Crisis, so as an ISVA my day to day schedule is extremely varied. I generally start the week by catching up on, and responding to any e-mail and telephone queries that may have come over the weekend, and then planning and organizing what I am going to be doing for the next five days.
Although there is a lot of structure in the way that I work, I try not to make it so that I cannot be flexible, as the women I work with are over 18 and the majority tend to either be in full time education or working, so it can be difficult for them to meet me during the day. Much of time is spent contacting clients, making welfare calls and arranging to meet women face to face at our centre. The centre itself runs in many ways as a refuge would. Located at a safe address in West London, the centre offers a safe non-judgmental and non-directive space in which women can explore their experiences, participate in psycho educational work, and allow women to discuss what options there are with regards to seeking redress within the criminal justice system and beyond. Following any communication or face to face meetings with women, I often find that a lot of work is generated from this and it is commonly where much of my work begins. After completing risk assessments and support plans, I liaise with a number of external agencies, particularly the police, and more so with the CPS, working in a multi agency capacity, ensuring that a woman is comprehensively supported throughout the various stages of the criminal justice system.
Part of my role also requires me to carry out outreach work with external agencies such as the police, solicitors, statutory and other voluntary agencies. I deliver training to organisations, educating them about the role of the ISVA, sharing best practice and creating referral pathways to ensure that women and girls are informed about all support services that are available to them by an independent advocate. At West London Rape Crisis, we are able to offer a complete support package encompassing, specialist counselling, holistic therapies, workshops, advice and advocacy, all of which are free. I liaise closely with my colleagues, as quite often, my clients do not just need to access the ISVA service, but a broad range of services to promote their total and sustainable recovery. My role as an ISVA is to guide and facilitate, offering a range of interventions on a woman’s journey of healing, according to the expressed needs of each individual woman’.
What is your favourite thing about your role?
‘For me, it is essential that women and girls are offered a safe, woman centered space in which they can explore their experiences and access a range of holistic and support services from an independent advocate. Many of the women that I work with are in a vulnerable place when they come to access the ISVA service. As an ISVA, my role is not to just offer practical support to women around the criminal justice system, but to teach women to recognize their own strength and tenacity, and help them understand that their experiences do not define who they are. I believe that I have an educational role when working with women, and utilizing this skill, I hope to empower women to make informed choices, supporting a woman to take control of her recovery, and helping her transform from being a survivor of violence, to someone who thrives following on from her experiences. I also enjoy advocating for women on a second tier level, on both local and national levels, helping to influence policy and challenging social norms and public opinion around gendered violence, including myths around rape and sexual assault, and working towards eliminating all forms of violence against women and girls.
Unfortunately, not all the women I work with have had positive experiences with institutions and the authorities, and many are unsure of what their rights are and how to challenge negative decisions. I work with a number of solicitors who help women take action against authorities, when cases have not been investigated correctly, or some error of law has taken place. As an ISVA, I feel that it is important for me to educate women on what their rights are, and to help them navigate a complex system, particularly when they decide to challenge institutions and hold those in authority to account. For me this is an important extension of my role that allows me to support women to empower themselves and seek other forms of redress’.
What is the hardest/most challenging thing about your role?
‘I think the most challenging thing I find as an ISVA, is when I have a woman who has already experienced a traumatic event such as a rape or childhood sexual abuse, who reports to the police, but no further action is pursued by them or the CPS; or when a case does go to court, and a perpetrator is acquitted, and how to support a women with all the emotions that leaves her with. Despite some encouraging changes being made at a policy level, and by the CPS and ACPO, the criminal justice system is still complicated to navigate, and much more needs to be done to make the system more accessible and less threatening. I often find that regardless of how often the CJS at all its levels is explained to a woman, it can still be a perplexing system to understand. Even when I arrange for pre court visits with women, this still never really prepares them sufficiently for what will happen when they stand in a witness box and are cross examined themselves. It is quite challenging at times to balance supporting and advocating for a woman without becoming so involved, that there is a risk of being seen to be coaching a woman, by the defence. Many women who have had not had the positive outcome they hoped for, often state that they have lost faith in the justice system, and say that should anything happen to them again, they would not even consider reporting anything to the authorities. When cases do go to trial, particularly after cross examination by the defence barrister, women often say that they feel as though it was them who were put on trial, not the perpetrator, and that they felt that they had been raped or abused all over again. Being able to support a woman when she is left in this vulnerable position, particularly if she has other complex needs, often feels as though all the months work that you have done to empower the women and support her recovery, needs to begin all over again. However, it is not an impossible task, and with the ISVA service being able to support women after court as well, and WLRCC having its own in house therapy service, as an organization we are able to offer continued support long term to women and girls.
For some women, where their cases have not been pursued to CPS or court, or their cases have not been investigated correctly, I can assist women with asking for the agency concerned to review or re-open cases and can refer women to legal representatives who specialise in taking action against the authorities, when there has been an error of law. Some women have needed criminal defence solicitors, as they have been wrongly criminalised themselves during a police investigation. However, WGN has been able to build a close partnership with criminal solicitor who has successfully written to the CPS to have all charges against the women dropped, due to it not being in the public interest. All women who access the ISVA service are advised about their right to apply for criminal injuries compensation, and I work closely with a large legal firm who work on a pro bono basis in assisting women to seek other forms of redress for example, by applying for compensation’.
What is your greatest achievement in relation to your role?
‘There are a number of things that I feel have been great achievements in relation to my role. Being able to incorporate holistic working models within my advocacy work has at times been challenging, and although this is very much work in progress, the benefits of this style of working is essential in order to help women and girls empower themselves and promote sustainable recovery. Delivering outreach work to the police and statutory agencies, working in a multi agency capacity and raising the profile of the ISVA with certain agencies has been really beneficial to the women I support. Many women are not aware of the rights they have, so working with legal experts, some of who work pro bono, has been invaluable.
More recently, my colleague and I were asked to speak at an event where legal experts, academics and other leading women’s NGOs raised issues around barriers to justice, and ways in which women can seek redress through the criminal justice system. A member of Women’s Aid attended the conference and after hearing us speak, invited WLRCC to give oral evidence at the House of Commons, All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Domestic and sexual violence. I attended the APPG along with other leading national and local women’s NGO`s, the CPS and the police, and gave oral evidence to a panel of MP`s raising concerns about the failings around the criminal justice system. The APPG outlined the discrimination women and girls face when they do not have access to justice, and highlighted how the CJS can at times, undermine Women and girls human rights. This is particularly concerning, as violence against women and girls is internationally recognized to be a violation of a women and girls human rights, so it is vital that the police and criminal justice system acknowledges this, and challenges its working practices. Furthermore, I, along with other experts, gave recommendations to the panel of MP’s on how the criminal justice system needs to change in response to the evidence presented at the APPG. The APPG has now published a report following the inquiry, and has developed a charter which outlines the treatment of women and girls survivors of sexual violence, and what they should expect from the criminal justice system. The report will be used to urge the government and all those involved in the criminal justice system to sign up to the charter’.
The report can be found by clicking here
If there is one thing that you could change relating to your role, what would it be?
‘I would ask for more funding to be made available for more ISVA`s to be recruited and trained, and for ISVA`s to have the recognition that they deserve. Although there has been some progress from the government and criminal justice system around the role of ISVAs, much more needs to be done. I believe that it is important for people who already work within the CJS, to be educated about the role of ISVAs, and of the positive impact an ISVA has on a woman and girl, when she receives specialist independent advocacy support. ISVAs need to be recognised as having a professional role when supporting women and girls through the CJS. However, this should not mean that we become so entrenched in the criminal justice system that we lose our independence. For me it is essential that working within the CJS does not mean having to have to compromise the holistic, feminist and multicultural values of the WGN and West London Rape Crisis’.
How would you like to see the ISVA role developed in the next 3-5 years?
‘It would be very encouraging to receive continued long term funding for ISVAs, but I also think that it would be really beneficial to have ISVAs who specialize in other areas. For example, having more ISVAs who have expertise in mental health, specialist BAMER ISVAs and Young Women’s ISVAs etc. ISVAs are trained and skilled experts in the advocacy we offer, much the same way as other professionals who work within the CJS, and this needs to be recognised. It is unfortunate that the vital role that ISVAs have in the CJS is not validated by the very system that we work within. In addition, the creation of specialist sexual violence courts, where the ISVAs role is recognized and where we could offer expert advocacy support would further support women and girls through the CJS.
On a strategic level, I would like ISVAs to be able to at the forefront of leading the agenda on how the role should be developed, and to outline exactly how the government and CJS need to be supportive of ISVAs. I also think that government bodies need to co-ordinate, and put guidelines and policies into place to ensure that the role of ISVAs is validated, and that support mechanisms are put into place for us’.
Is there anything else you would like to share about your role with other ISVAs?
‘I would suggest that all ISVAs ask their organisations to review their service and referrals, in order to tailor support to the specific needs of the women and girls. It is essential to have structures and policies in place to enable you to support clients professionally and competently, but also in a way that empowers your clients to make informed choices about how they wish to be supported. It is important to develop the ISVA service and to monitor and review your own progress, not just to measure the number of referrals you receive, but to also ensure that you are offering a high quality service.
As an ISVA, I do not believe that our role is to simply support clients through the CJS in just a fundamental way, but that we ensure that when needed, we challenge where appropriate, and act as campaigners and raise awareness of the impact sexual violence has on women and girls within the CJS’.
Ishah was interviewed by LimeCulture as part of our new blog series “Interview with an ISVA’. LimeCulture is the leading ISVA training provider, having successfully trained over 100 ISVAs since 2011. LimeCulture is a huge supporter of the ISVA role, which we believe to be a vital part of the response to victims of sexual violence. The aim of this new blog series is to showcase the important and varied work that is done by ISVAs across the country in support of victims. I