ISVAs: Raising the standards of support for victims of sexual violence

Independent Sexual Violence Advisers, or ISVAs as they are often known, play a hugely important role in supporting victims of rape and sexual violence. They are victim-focused advocates, that work with people who have experienced sexual violence to access the services they need.

The role of the ISVA was originally championed by the Home Office in 2006, after they saw the success of a few inspirational people supporting victims to access the support they needed following a sexual assault. Although these people were not then called ISVAs and were operating under a different name, they were in fact the pioneers of the ISVA role. The role of the Independent Domestic Violence Adviser (IDVA) had also been very successfully received and the Home Office thought it a good idea to adapt this role to meet the needs of victims of sexual violence. Over the following few years, the Home Office has provided funding to specialist sexual violence organisations and Sexual Assault Referral Centres (SARCs) to increase the ISVA workforce across England and Wales.

The role of the ISVA has been considered to be a great success and ISVA roles have been created in a range of organisations. In 2010, when Baroness Stern did her independent review on How Rape Complaints are Handled, she ran a series of Focus Groups and visited organisations throughout the country, and found from every organisation, unanimous praise for the work done by ISVAs.

ISVAs support victims through the process, whether or not the case goes to trial (and indeed their support is particularly welcomed in dealing with the reactions when it is decided that the case is not going to trial), and afterwards. They do an impressive,  important and very difficult job. The value of their support should not be underestimated.

LimeCulture would like to see every victim, whether they are male, female, child or adult have access to an ISVA following a sexual assault. They should also have access to an ISVA whether or not they choose to report their abuse. In some parts of the country this is already a reality, but sadly, in most areas it is not. There is not enough ISVAs and it is not always clear how a victim can access the support of an ISVA. In fact, it is unknown exactly how many ISVAs there are through the country as there is not a directory or even a comprehensive list of who they are and where they work. The Home Office has a list of the organisations they have provided with funding for ISVAs, but there are also ISVAs that have not been funded by the Home Office that are working with victims and, therefore do not appear on any such list.

There is not an overarching professional body that oversees ISVAs or regulates their work. There is no single organisation that an ISVA can turn to with professional questions or for support. There are a number of accredited training courses for ISVAs (limeCulture provides one of them), which is different to IDVAs who are all trained by a single organisation called CAADA. A single training provider means that you can be sure that all professionals that have undertaken that training will have be taught to the same standard. Unfortunately, the variety of ISVA training means that standards may well be different for the ‘trained’ ISVAs. Furthermore, ISVA training is not mandatory and there has been no coordination to identify which ISVAs have not undergone training.

LimeCulture has been a huge supporter of the ISVA role and will continue to be so into the future. However, we have been very concerned about the isolation that many ISVAs have told us they feel. We know that there are ISVAs sitting out there, doing very difficult jobs with the most vulnerable people, without professional or peer support and without any training. We have also been concerned about the differences in the way the ISVA role has been developed and delivered by different services. Unfortunately, in some services, we believe the interpretation of the ISVA role has lead to dangerous and unsafe practice.

The recognition of the ISVA workforce is also varied- some ISVAs say their role is completely understood and supported by other professionals (such as police, lawyers, courts etc) while in other areas, the ISVAs have a daily battle with other agencies who don’t understand who they are or what they are trying to do- which often leads the ISVA to being blocked or left out of discussions concerning their clients. The profile of ISVAs needs to be raised so that this doesn’t happen in any part of the country.

That said, we don’t think any of the problems with the ISVA role are insurmountable and with a little bit of clever thinking and coordination, we think the ISVA workforce could be a strong, confidence and competent workforce that is recognised and valued by all agencies and professionals just as much as they are valued by their clients.

Alarmingly, despite all of the support for ISVAs, their future is uncertain. In 2010, Baroness Stern said that as ‘an example of a reform to a system that is effective, cost-effective and affordable, the establishment of ISVAs is hard to beat. They help the victim to make sense of the system. They help the police by supporting a victim throughout the investigation. They help the prosecution by supporting the victim through the psychologically gruelling process of preparing to give evidence. They provide a link between the criminal case that is under way and the range of social agencies whose help may be needed. Victims find that an ISVA makes an enormous difference to the way they feel about what is happening to them. Yet ISVAs are not securely funded‘.

This is still the case today- if not worse-  for ISVAs whose posts are almost always short fixed-term contracts with unsustainable or unsecured funding.  All agencies and organisations are operating in times of financial constraint, but this is an area of funding which, above all other forms of support, should not be withdrawn to the detriment of victims reporting rape and accessing the support they need.

The changes to public services such as the NHS, Local Authorities and police will undoubtedly have an impact on ISVAs whose posts may have been funded or part funded by statutory agencies. The ISVA role needs to be safeguarded and funding continued in order to make sure that victims of sexual violence are still able to access the support regardless of the changes to public services taking place.

So how do we safeguard the role of the ISVA? LimeCulture believe the first step in this is to raise the standards of the ISVA role to ensure that high-quality, effective support is available from professional ISVAs. If ISVAs (and ISVA services) can show their impact, the positive outcomes their services have on victims and that they deliver these incredible services with great value for money, funders are much more likely to continue to fund them into the future. If we raise the standards, it becomes much harder for funders and commissioners to argue the case for funding cuts.

So how do you raise the standards? Well, LimeCulture think the best way to start is to let the ISVAs learn from each other. There is some examples of great practice going on out there and there are some brilliant ISVAs. There are also some ISVAs who have worked really hard to make things in their areas better for victims and they have considerable learning that they could share. LimeCulture think ISVAs should be brought together so that they can talk to each other and learn what works and what doesn’t work.

In April, LimeCulture and Kings College London are jointly hosting a national event for ISVAs. We hope this will be the start of something fantastic for ISVAs. Our aim is to bring as many ISVAs together as possible so that they can meet each other and learn from each other. We want all the ISVAs, regardless of who funds them or who employs them, to be a united workforce and the only way we think this can happen is if they are brought together to network and update their knowledge.

Knowledge and Network: An Event for ISVAs is being held on Thursday 25 April 2013 on the Strand in London. A fantastic range of speakers have been secured including Baroness Stern, Carlene Furmin, Dr Sam Warner. It promises to be a great day.

To book a place, please email


LimeCulture presents at national sexual health conference

LimeCulture was asked to present at the national sexual health conference ‘Into the Future: Sexual Health Beyond Transition‘ on 15 February 2013. The conference was organised by NHS London‘s Sexual Health Programme and the aim was to celebrate the achievements of sexual health services with a view to taking the learning about ‘what works’ as preparations begin for Local Authorities, Clinical Commissioning Groups and the NHS Commissioning Board to commission sexual health services from 1 April.

LimeCulture was asked to speak about Sexual Assault Referral Centres (SARCs) and what the future holds for the network of specialist services for victims of rape and sexual assault with regard to the monumental changes that are taking place within the NHS and other public services.

The majority of the audience were sexual health commissioners and service providers – and not from the specialist sexual violence sector- Stephanie Reardon, speaking on behalf of LimeCulture explained the huge scale of the challenge in relation to sexual violence and the estimated numbers of women, men and children who experience sexual violence every year and the need for them to have a high quality and effective multi-agency response. She explained the need for robust and clear pathways between SARCs and sexual health services, where many victims will access support- often without disclosing their abuse. There is a real need for professionals to be able to identify and respond to these vulnerable people and their specific needs in relation to sexual violence- and to make onward referrals to appropriate services, such as SARCs.

Stephanie then went on to outline policy context around sexual violence and why the previous Government and the Coalition Government have been so supportive of SARCs. For anyone not familiar with the concept of a SARC, they are specialist services where men, women and children can receive medical care and access to counselling, and have the opportunity to assist a police investigation, including undergoing a forensic examination, if they so chose. They are located throughout England and Wales, Scotland and the SARC in Northern Ireland is due to open it’s doors shortly.

Stephanie- and all of the LimeCulture team- have extensive experience of SARCs following the 2 year programme of work by the Department of Health‘s National Support Team for the Response to Sexual Violence. The National Support Team was established to provide support to areas developing a SARC and also to ensure that existing SARCs were operating as well as possible. Stephanie’s presentation outlined the findings from the National Support Team visits and how the network of SARCs has been developed over the last few years.  The presentation focused on the importance of SARC service provision to support victims of sexual violence and the need to safeguard such important services while the commissioning arrangements change.

The next few years could prove to be a turbulent time for SARCs. New commissioning arrangements and the inevitable changes to contracting and monitoring that this will bring, providers of SARC services will need to demonstrate their effectiveness, value for money and overall outcomes for the people who use these services. The quality  and productivity of these services will undoubtedly have to be of the highest standard in order to see them (re)commissioned into the future and beyond transition.


ACPO National Multi Agency Child Protection Conference

This annual event has just come to a close in Leicestershire. Originally intended for serving police officers, the conference is now attended by many professionals both from the statutory agencies and third sector. Kim attended in her capacity as a member of the national safeguarding panel in sport.

Kim was initially invited to attend as a guest but was then asked to sit as a panel member advising the audience on the disclosure of information. It was a lively session and threw up the confusion that surrounds disclosure for all professionals involved in this area of work.

The conference was also given an update on the Jimmy Saville enquiry by the  officer who has been leading the investigation. He also spoke about the increase in the the number of historic disclosures reported to the police since the Jimmy Saville enquiry began in October. It was clear  that support for these victims who had chosen to speak out was a key priority for the police.

Happy New Year from LimeCulture

Happy New Year to all of you! 2013 promises to be another great year for LimeCulture.

Here at LimeCulture we are very excited about the coming year and what we have in store for us. We have got lots of work to keep us busy but we are determined to stay focused on improving the confidence and competence of frontline professionals responding to victims of sexual violence.

From now through until April we will be preparing for the National Conference  ‘Knowledge and Network: An Event for ISVAs’ and making sure that is as good as it can possibly be for this important workforce. See our previous post for more information about this Event and how to book.

We will also be focused on training professionals and have a number of training courses running over the next couple of months. Some of our courses are fully booked, so we will be announcing further dates for Court Skills and Crisis Worker in the coming months. We still have a few places left on the 2013 ISVA Development Programme so if you would like to join the June – November 2013 cohort, please contact us for further information.

The LimeCulture experts also provide support and advice to commissioners and funders of specialist sexual assault services. Last year, LimeCulture was commissioned to undertake a number of Independent Service Reviews to assess the quality of service provision on behalf of commissioners. Due to the unique blend of skills and experience of our experts, LimeCulture are able to identify strengths and challenges of service provision and make recommendations to improve the response of services to victims of sexual violence. In light of the changing NHS landscape and the new Police and Crime Commissioners and the impact these will have on commissioning arrangements for sexual assault services, we believe this year could be a turbulent one for sexual assault services who may have to compete against other services in times of dwindling budgets. Showing positive outcomes and value for money has probably never been so important for services who will need to show their value to cash strapped commissioners. Over the next year, LimeCulture will continue to focus on supporting commissioners and funders of sexual violence services, but we will also shift our focus to support specialist sexual violence services to achieve excellence and demonstrate their impact to commissioners and funders. Our aim is to help services to become ‘commissioner ready’ and to remain properly commissioned, funded and supported.

In 2013 LimeCulture will also be working internationally! As well as being asked to provide bespoke training to sexual assault services overseas, we have also been asked to visit and speak at a number of international events on sexual violence. While the UK very much remains our focus, we will be taking up a few of the offers in the hope of learning what other countries do to support victims of sexual violence and whether there is anything that we can learn from others. We will report back on our findings! Watch this space!

So there is lots to do in 2013 and LimeCulture is excited about doing it!! We hope 2013 is an excellent year for you too!

Bookings Now Being Taken for Knowledge and Network: An Event for ISVAs

This major event is jointly hosted by King’s College London and LimeCulture and will take place at KCL’s Campus on the Strand, London on Thursday 25 April 2013.  Places are limited so early bookings are recommended to avoid disappointment.

The programme has now been confirmed and speakers and workshop hosts include:

  • Baroness Vivien Stern
  • Professor Susuan Lea, King’s College London
  • Carlene Firmin, Office of the Children’s Commissioner
  • Sam Warner, Clinical Psychologist
  • Charlotte Triggs, Crown Prosecution Service
  • Jeff Goodright, National Police Improvement Agency
  • Shelly Stoops, ISVA

This event is suitable for:

  • Independent Sexual Violence Advisers
  • Advocates
  • Children and Young People’s Workers
  • Service Managers
  • Commissioners
  • Other professionals working in partnership with ISVAs (such as Police, CPS, health professionals)

To see the full programme and booking form, please email

This promises to be a great event and we are all looking forward to it!

Knowledge and Network: An Event for ISVAs April 2013

Knowledge and Network: An Event for Independent Sexual Violence Advisers (ISVAs)

Kings College London and LimeCulture are pleased to announce that they will be jointly hosting a national conference for ISVAs in April 2013. The Conference will take place at Kings’ Campus located on The Strand in central London.

This major event will bring together professionals to share knowledge and provide a unique opportunity to network with other members of the ISVA workforce.

You will have the opportunity to:

  • share expertise with like-minded delegates
  • learn about how other ISVAs services operate
  • discuss operational challenges faced by ISVAs
  • identify solutions to improve responses and raise standards
  • contribute to creating a strong, professional and recognised ISVA workforce

This event is suitable for:

  • Independent Sexual Violence Advisers
  • Advocates
  • Service Managers
  • Commissioners
  • Other professionals working in partnership with ISVAs (such as Police, CPS, health professionals etc)

If you would like to express an interest in attending this event, please contact

Alternatively, keep your eyes peeled for further information and details of how to book your place at this event. Booking information will be posted on this site and the LimeCulture website ( as soon as this event is open for bookings.

You can also subscribe to the LimeCulture E-News Letter to keep updated on our latest news and information.

ISVA Focus Groups

LimeCulture was asked to facilitate two ISVA Focus Groups run by the Home Office on 19 and 26 October. The purpose of the focus groups was two-fold:

  • Firstly, to give ISVAs the opportunity to share their experiences, suggestions and ideas and
  • Secondly, to give the Home Office the opportunity to hear how the role of  the ISVA is developing and to hear the challenges and successes faced by the ISVAs themselves.

The Home Office ran 2 focus groups, one held in Manchester and one held in London. Both were excellent, with interesting discussions and ideas being shared by the people who do this important role. Although ISVAs often operate in difficult and challenges situations – providing support to some of the most vulnerable people in our society- the passion and committment to their clients was clear. All want to do the best they can for their clients and provide the support that is needed.

The discussion themes were targeted and the focus was on 4 main areas:

  • ISVA service provision: is it consistent across the country?
  • How can ISVAs be supported to carry out their roles effectively?
  • How can we ensure ISVA services are managed and monitored effectively?
  • How can we ensure that the training and development needs of ISVAs are met?

There were lively discussions from ISVAs at both focus groups, with lots of suggestions and ideas being put forward on how to professionalise the role and improve and increase the standards of service provision for children and adults. It was great to hear the views of these frontline professionals who are working so hard to improve the response to sexual violence up and down the country.

LimeCulture was thrilled to be part of the focus groups and it was a privilege to meet such inspirational people, doing such inspirational roles. The role of the ISVA should not be underestimated or undervalued. These professionals have a critical role in improving the response to sexual violence.

LimeCulture would like every victim of rape or sexual assault to have access to ISVA support if they want it or need it…..if only there were more ISVAs!

Kings College London and LimeCulture will be hosting a national conference for ISVAs on Thursday 25 April 2013. Further information about “Knowledge and Network: An Event for ISVAs’ will be available soon. 

New Training Dates for 2013

LimeCulture is pleased to announce new training dates for 2013

LimeCulture courses and workshops are designed to support professionals working with victims of sexual violence. All of our courses are intended to be practical in focus and aimed at improving the confidence and confidence of frontline staff.

The following courses will be running during 2013:

Workshop for ISVA Managers – Thursday 31 January 2013 (Manchester) 

Giving Evidence in Court Proceedings – Tuesday 26 and Wednesday 27 February 2013 (Manchester)

Independent Sexual Violence Adviser (ISVA) Development Programme – Throughout June- December 2013

  • Module 1 : Defining the Roles and Responsibilities of an ISVA (11 & 12 June 2013)
  • Module 2: Best practice ISVA responses to police and non-police referrals (9 & 10 July 2013)
  • Module 3: Unit a)Working in Partenrship with Sexual Assault Referral Centres (SARCS) (17 September 2013). Unit b)  Risk Identification, Assessment and Management (18 September 2013)
  • Module 4: Unit a) Understanding Sexual Trauma (15 October 2013). Unit b) Forensic Awareness and Interpretation (16 October 2013)
  • Module 5: Safeguarding Children and Vulnerable Adults (14 & 15 November 2013)
  • Module 6: Understanding the ISVA and Victim role in relation to the Criminal and Civil Justice Process (13 & 13 December 2013)

For more information about our 2013 training courses please email

Home Office release details for ISVA focus groups

The Home Office are holding two focus groups for ISVAs. Details of the venues and timings are below.

MANCHESTER – Mercure Hotel on 19th October 2012 between  13:30 – 17:00

LONDON, Home Office HQ, 2 Marsham Street on 26th October 2012 between 13:30 – 17:00


LimeCulture understands that places are limited so ISVAs wishing to attend will need to act quickly.

Further information can be obtained from

Sean McGarry 
Interpersonal Violence: Policy and Delivery Team at the Home Office

Telephone No:  020 7035 3724      

New dates for Court Skills Training

Due to popular demand LimeCulture are delighted to announce further dates for Court Skills Training. This course is ideal for all front line professionals who might find themselves having to give evidence in criminal or civil proceedings.

About the training

More and more frequently ISVAs, Social Workers and other front line professionals are finding themselves in the court room giving evidence.

This dynamic and intensive 2-day training course will look at both criminal and civil proceedings, equipping delegates with the practical skills required to give evidence in court, including how to prepare for the evidence giving process, the criminal/civil process and completion of statements/reports for proceedings.

New Dates for 2013

26th/27th February 2013

Testimonial from our 2012 courses

‘I was recently called to give evidence at short notice and had no idea of what was expected of me. I wish I had done this course first. I feel so much more prepared now and whilst I know I will still be nervous I am sure I will be more confident than the last time’ – Crisis Worker

This training has given me so much confidence. I now feel well equipped and armed with the tools should I be needed for court in the future. Thank you LimeCulture for a really great 2 days’ –  ISVA

For further information or to book your place on this training course please contact