Sian Scarborough is an ISVA employed by Hertfordshire Constabulary and is based at the Herts Sunflower Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) in Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire. Sian provides support to men and women over the age of 18 who self refer and over the age of 13 if they come to her via a police referral. She covers the following geographical areas: Dacorum, Watford and Three Rivers, Welwyn and Hatfield, St Albans and the Hertsmere area. Sian currently has a case-load of 45 clients. Sian has been an ISVA for almost 3 years and was part of the first cohort of ISVAs trained by LimeCulture in September 2011. Sian successfully completed her accredited training in March 2012.
When I arrive at work, the first thing I do is turn on my work mobile to read and answer the texts that have come in from my clients since the last time I was on duty. I find the use of text messages an easy and non-pressurised way for clients to communicate with me. I spend the first hour of the day (when the phones are generally quiet) to write up any notes from the day before and to read and write any emails or letters to clients or agencies. I then start making welfare calls to clients and action any needs they might have. Some phone calls can be quick, but some take a while, depending on the needs of the client and where they are in their journey. Some clients may need a multi-agency approach, so I then call the relevant services and ensure they are up to date on what is occurring for the client.
I call any new clients and introduce myself, normally leaving the clients that have had medicals (forensic medical examinations) overnight until a little later in the day, as they need a chance to rest. New clients often need extra security on their properties, such as a marker on their property to ensure the police respond appropriately should they call for assistance, and a personal attack alarm. I can sort that out for them and arrange for them to have extra security. Keeping them safe is a priority. I will then contact any other agencies that they are already working with – or agencies that they would benefit from working with – such as housing and legal advice. If a client needs more time and attention that I am able to give, I refer them to our befriender service, the befriended will call them weekly and be a friendly voice on the phone or in person. I can also refer the client’s supporter(s) if they need extra support themselves. The supporter is the person that is helping the client, so it is not unusal for them to need a little support too.
Although I am Independent, I can spend a lot of time contacting the police officers in the (SOIT) Sexual Offence Investigation Team at our Headquarters. They keep me up to date on the police cases, whether an offender has been arrested or not, how the client is appearing to them and if there is any concerning behaviour. We will also do joint visits to enable the client to feel more comfortable and supported. Sometimes if there is news to deliver to the client, the SOIT officer will ask me to attend with them.
I meet with clients in our premises as well as Children Centres, Council offices and other safe locations. This can take up quite a large part of my day.I often do talks to agencies to promote awareness of our service.
I have many court cases coming up with clients. I shall be sitting with them in the Witness waiting room, helping them and their families, then sitting with them in court to help keep them calm and be a friendly face.
What is your favourite thing about your role?
I really like helping the self-referral clients. They generally contact us to find out what support is available and what their options are. They can go from being quite upset and feeling desperate to feeling empowered and happier by knowing what their options are and knowing they have support whether or not they wish to report to the police. In my experience, by giving them a safe, non-judgemental places to talk about how they are feeling, can really help them emotionally and be good for their well-being. Therefore, I usually invite them to come into the Sunflower to have a chat with me.
What is the hardest/most challenging thing about your role?
The hardest thing for me is when I can see that a client is extremely vulnerable and that the environment they are living in is not helping to keep them safe. Until they can see this themselves, it can be hard to help them. However, I find that by being a consistent support and by contacting the relevant agencies, this can often offer them the assistance they need to change things if they wish to do so.
What is your greatest achievement in relation to your role?
On a daily basis I experience clients thanking me for my help and saying they feel much better just to have been able to normalise their feelings. Their body language speaks a thousand words too, they can literally be sitting folded up and then gradually they become comfortable with me and the surroundings and feel safe enough to open up and become more relaxed.
Also, when another professional asks me to help a client that will not speak to them or engage with other workers and I make contact with the client and then, gradually, they start to open up to me and I can then get them the help they need. For me, this is a massive achievement and one that always makes my arms goose pimply!
When a client says, ‘you are the only person that has helped me and you really get me’, I find that very humbling. Unfortunately, some people find it hard to engage with professionals and I am completely humbled to have been the professional that has been able to help them take steps towards improving their life and moving forward. I can recall one specific client, who was a teenage girl, I supported her and her family for a year until her case went to court. I sat with her whilst she was in court. Her mum and dad brought me flowers afterwards with a note that said “thank you for being our rock”.
I have recently been supporting a transgender client, this has been a great learning experience for me as I have not had the opportunity to work with a transgender client before. I have seen for myself some of the frustrations that my client has experienced with regards to her gender change. I have helped her receive the assistance and support that she deserved from the agencies that previously felt all her problems were related to her gender change. As a result, my client is now more empowered to ask for support from the relevant agencies and has a new found confidence. Being a part of this journey with her has been a real privilege.
If there is one thing that you could change relating to your role, what would it be?
I would like to be able to do home visits when necessary. Some clients suffer from extreme anxiety and panic attacks and I feel this would help their situation.
I would also like to see the Herts Sunflower SARC get medicals (forensic medical examinations) back for those who wish to self refer. This was such a great thing to be able to offer clients, with no commitment to reporting to the police if they do not wish to do so.
How would you like to see the ISVA role developed in the next 3-5 years
I would like to see ISVAs in hospitals and GU Clinics. I am aware that a lot of people find them a safe place to disclose, without informing the police. I think this would help “spread the word” about the help that is available to victims of sexual assault and rape.
Is there anything else you would like to share about your role with other ISVAs?
I feel I have learnt so much in the past 2 ¾ years. Helping people who have suffered a sexual assault or rape can be very challenging but thoroughly rewarding when you can help them move their lives forward. However, regular Supervision is needed to help you off-load any stresses and emotions. Taking regular lunch breaks and trying hard to leave on time! This helps keep you healthy and ready to tackle the next task.
I always find is that people are reluctant to ask for support from their friends and family. I often ask my clients this question, ‘can you think of 3 friends? If this was to happen to them, how do you think they would react? what would you do to support them?’ They generally answer that they think their friends would be struggling too but that they would support their friend. I then say, so let them support you in the same way you would support them.
Finally, a colleague of mine brought this question to our risk assessment “What are you doing to help improve your wellbeing”. This is a really important question as it really helps the client to think about their own actions and to begin to help themselves.
Sian 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 120 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.