An ISVA can be described as a specialist advocate who works holistically with victim survivors of sexual assaults.
It's an extremely unique role since they offer all the advice and information (which is non-judgmental and impartial) a victim may need when they come forward, irrespective of whether they have reported this to the police.
Whilst many victim survivors are referred by organisations such as the police, SARCs (Sexual Assault Referral Centres), GPs and educational organisations, it is also possible for the victim survivor to “self-refer”.
What will an ISVA do on receiving a referral?
Their initial task is to carry out a full risk assessment to understand and identify any current risks to the client and their loved ones.
They will make appropriate referrals (to outside agencies) and arrange support to manage and or reduce any identified risks (i.e. any risk from the perpetrator/safeguarding issues and the physical and mental wellbeing of the client).
They will then put together a care plan with the victim survivor so that they retain some control. This is important as many victim survivors come to ISVAs feeling they have lost control due to the trauma they have experienced. Both the risk assessment and care plan, are reviewed on a regular basis and will include working with the victim survivor towards an independent life.
The ISVA will help the victim survivor develop an action plan which may include returning to work or education, ensuring relationships are stable and help with accessing any other assistance they may need.
If appropriate the victim survivor may be invited to return at some point in the future, for example when the perpetrator is due to be released.
What can they assist with?
An ISVA can assist with a range of issues including (but not limited to):
- Reporting to the police (if the victim survivor chooses to do so). This may include arranging for a police officer to visit and explain the process fully.
- Accompanying a victim survivor to their ABE (Achieving Best Evidence) police interview.
- Accompanying a victim survivor to meetings with their employer and assist with negotiating a return to work if they have had absences from work.
- Supporting with housing and financial issues.
- Arranging support for family members.
- Arranging access to counselling and mental health services.
- Assisting in explaining and educating outside agencies any difficulties the victim survivor may be facing.
Do they have to undergo training?
They will undergo specialised accredited training which provides them with the core competencies and skills to carry out their role. Some are former police officers or teachers and are fortunate in that they come to the role with the skills and knowledge required.
If working with children, they must undertake additional training. And as part of their ongoing training they attend clinical supervision sessions.
As their caseload can be as high as 50 clients, ISVAs are taught self-care and will use the compassion fatigue test. We have highlighted compassion fatigue as a very real risk in this area of work previously.
It's a role that is becoming increasingly recognised by the media and the public and most recently, Broadchurch.
There was some criticism of the way the role was portrayed in the programme, but it must be borne in mind that this was a programme made for TV. Inconsistencies are therefore inevitable - as with medical and police dramas.
Emmott Snell Solicitors recognise and appreciate the invaluable work ISVAs undertake all around the country. We are pleased to be involved in helping those in training, to understand what redress there might be to their potential clients by considering civil compensation claims.
Recently, Tracey Emmott was invited to speak at the National Independent Sexual Violence Advisor (ISVA) Service Conference 2017 on 23 November in Birmingham, organised by the Survivors Trust.
It is clear that the role of an ISVA is challenging and diverse.
It is a relatively new role and perhaps one that is not that well known but it is invaluable to both the criminal and civil justice processes.