The recent series of Broadchurch (being shown on ITV) focuses on the aftermath of a serious sexual assault. LimeCulture Community Interest Company (CIC) wholeheartedly welcomes this storyline and believes it is will go a long way to raise the public’s awareness of sexual violence and the impact that it can have on those who have experienced these heinous crimes.
LimeCulture CIC is also pleased that the important role of the Independent Sexual Violence Adviser (ISVA) was also included in the storyline by the makers of the show. ‘This is really the first time the vital work of ISVAs has been showcased on a programme of this kind, which is excellent. We commend the makers of Broadchurch for including the role of an ISVA amongst their central characters. The support provided by an ISVA is hugely important and should be available to all victims/survivors. We believe that this series of Broadchurch will raise the profile of ISVAs working across the country’ says Stephanie Reardon, Joint Chief Executive of LimeCulture CIC.
Unfortunately, LimeCulture CIC was concerned by the portrayal of the support provided by Beth – the ISVA – when she accompanied her client into the police interview. “ISVAs accompanying their clients into a police interview is an area that creates a lot of discussion and confusion. In the ideal world, the client should be able to choose who supports them. However, the reality is that this is a very grey area and there are risks to the ISVA and the client if the ISVA becomes aware of the details of the case or discusses the evidence with their client’, explains Stephanie.
Achieving Best Evidence in Criminal Proceedings is clear that an ISVA can be a court witness supporter (box 4.1b) but it also states that the court witness supporter should be somebody ‘who has no knowledge of the evidence and who has not discussed the evidence with the witness‘. “Therefore, if the ISVA is to provide on-going support to their client leading up to and through a court case, they must ensure that these rules are adhered to in order to reduce the risk of challenge” adds Joint Chief Executive Kim Doyle, who worked for 24 years as a prosecutor specialising in sexual offence cases. The main reason for this being to reduce the risk of the ISVA being accused of ‘coaching the witness’ or called as a witness themselves in their client’s case. Kim explains “Its really not an ideal situation, but until such time as the Achieving Best Evidence in Criminal proceedings rules are amended or changed on this point, we would urge ISVAs to understand the possible risks to themselves as professionals and their clients if they do go into the police interview and hear the details of the case”.
Since Broadchurch was aired last night, LimeCulture has received a large number of messages from ISVAs who are concerned that this portrayal will undermine their role. Some ISVAs expressed disappointment about the storyline including the ISVA in the police interview and many more commented that they would not attend a police interview with their client because of the possible risks that it can create. Other ISVAs commented that it will now be difficult to manage their client’s expectations if they have seen the programme and expect their ISVA to attend the police interview.
LimeCulture is the leading provider of training for ISVAs, having trained over 400 since 2011. “We are working really hard to ensure there is not a postcode lottery of ISVA services. We believe that everyone who has experienced sexual violence should have access to ISVA support that does not compromise the client or the professionalism of the ISVA. This difficult point goes straight to the heart of the complexities that ISVAs have to manage in order to keep their professional boundaries in place’’.
The point about supporting a client in a police interview is discussed at length on the LimeCulture ISVA Development Programme, which has now been delivered to 16 cohorts of ISVAs since 2011. “The ISVAs that we have trained all fully understand the possible risks should they become aware of the details of a case. On that basis, the majority of ISVAs would not attend the police interview to ensure that they do not have knowledge of the evidence and in order to reduce the risk of challenge. This means that they can then go on to provide vital support to their clients up to and throughout a court case’’ Stephanie explains. Kim adds that “of course, there will be times when an ISVA might become aware of the details of the case, but they should take steps to reduce this risk wherever possible. This could mean passing the client on to another ISVA (who is not aware of the evidence) if the original ISVA become aware of the details of the case or has discussed the evidence with their client, but sadly there are not enough ISVAs in all parts of the country for this to happen yet”.
The benefit of the Broadchurch programme will be that the public becomes aware of the amazing support that is provided by many ISVAs across the country. “Sadly, this is happening at a time when we are seeing services reducing the number of ISVAs they employ due to funding pressures caused by a lack of clarity about who is responsible for commissioning and funded ISVAs“. Therefore, it is LimeCulture CIC’s view that it is very important that ISVAs do not take actions that compromises their ability to provide support or that could lead to others questioning their professionalism.
This statement has been made by LimeCulture Community Interest Company (CIC) following the 2nd episode of Broadchurch series 3 aired on ITV on Monday 6 March 2017.