Research shows how support services have helped survivors of sexual abuse during pandemic

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The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on survivors of sexual abuse passing through the criminal justice system has been “huge”, with support services reporting referral increases of up to 366%.
They also said they have supported clients for much longer periods of time due to the delays now seen in the criminal justice system.

A new evidence briefing released today, written by Lancaster University and posted on the Justice in Covid-19 for Sexual Abuse and Violence (JiCSAV) project website, focuses on the experiences of independent advisers in matters of sexual violence and third-sector support services during the pandemic.

The report also highlights a range of innovative ways in which support services have stepped up to help their clients.

Raising referrals was a problem before the pandemic, but things are much worse now. Support Services have done an incredible job supporting customers since the first lockdown in March 2020 and we’ve seen incredible innovation in the way services have delivered support. It has had huge benefits for the survivors supported. “

Dr Siobhan Weare, principal author

Some 20 participants from 19 support services across England and Wales were interviewed between May and July 2021 with respondents working as Independent Sexual Violence Advisors (ISVA) or ISVA for Children and Youth (CYPISVA), main ISVA / coordinators, therapists, support workers. , and service managers.

Support services have all reported the pandemic as the busiest time they have ever seen.

The opportunity, created by the blockages, for survivors to sit down and reflect, the lack of opportunity to engage other coping mechanisms, and the wider impacts of the pandemic on mental well-being are cited as possible reasons for an increase in referrals to support services, which shifted to remote work when face-to-face support was discontinued.

Services for young survivors of sexual abuse have reported seeing some of the worst cases of family relationships on record during the pandemic and an increase in the complexity of the cases handled.

“What we had was really horrible family stuff, so horrible even in our general horror sanctuary that we see daily, like beyond that the stuff that was going on in the middle of the pandemic was really dark. , really tough stuff, ”said one CYPISVA.

Continuity of service to customers in one form or another was important to all interviewees. This was especially the case because, as many participants noted, other services were not available during closings or struggled to meet increased demand.

“Doctors weren’t seeing people, mental health teams weren’t doing it… social workers were doing it over the phone, all housing and counseling office arrangements were shut down… for some people we were the only contact they had, ”one said. service manager

Likewise, the impacts of the pandemic on the Criminal Justice System (CJS) meant that survivors received fewer updates on their cases. Continuity of ISVA support was therefore essential.

For many survivors, the shift to online support has been beneficial. Some service user groups, particularly male survivors and those with more complex mental health issues and vulnerabilities, seemed to find it easier to engage with online or phone support than with support. face to face.

However, not everyone has been able to effectively engage with online support. Some did not have the technology or skills to access support in this way, and others did not have a safe or confidential space at home.

Also, some younger kids really struggled with online assistance, especially after spending so much time online for home schooling. People with learning disabilities and autism also found the transition to online support very difficult.

Participants explained that they provide support to clients for longer periods of time due to increased delays in the progression of cases in the CJS. They noted that investigations and prosecution decisions have been delayed and that pre-existing delays in the justice system have been magnified.

Respondents frequently reported that their clients’ court cases were called off or rearranged at the last minute, with some trials yet to be re-registered and others scheduled until 2023.

Participants explained that survivors may now have to wait an average of 2 to 3 years between reporting to the police and the start of their trial.

“The CJS has slowed down so dramatically, where we’ve been working with people in a worst case scenario for three years, we’re now looking at six years… we’re going to have the same person on our workload for six years,” “said an adviser.

Innovations to support survivors included:

  • Establishment of lending libraries to distribute tablets and training to customers to improve access to online support
  • The introduction of ‘walk and talk’ sessions and home visits – initially seen as a ‘Covid-secured’ way for customers to access support, has brought unexpected benefits and will be retained by some services . Several services reported that men and young people have particularly benefited from walking therapy.
  • Use the online game Minecraft to provide support for children who would traditionally have benefited from play therapy but who had difficulty engaging from a distance
  • As lockout restrictions eased and in-person support was allowed, providing children with individual therapy boxes containing play materials for the duration of their therapy journey.

The report makes a number of recommendations based on the findings, including the urgent need to address increased delays in CJS in order to improve survivor experiences and maximize opportunities for justice.

The larger JiCSAV project, co-led by Lancaster and Coventry Universities, explores the impact of Covid-19 on the experiences of survivors of sexual violence as their cases pass through the criminal justice system (CJS). This research is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the UK’s Rapid Response to COVID-19 Research and Innovation Fund (UKRI).


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