A day in the life of an ISVA during COVID-19
Role: Independent Sexual Violence Advisor (ISVA)
Length of time in this role: 4 years
Length of time at RSACC: 7 years
What’s an independent sexual violence advisor (ISVA)?
As an ISVA, my main role has always been to support survivors who are wanting to, thinking about, or have reported their sexual assault to the Police. I help them by explaining what the process looks like, ensuring they are being kept up to date with their case details and finding answers for any questions or queries they may have. I can support people at any stage (before reporting or after the court case has concluded). Before reporting, we can describe what reporting would look like, help set up reporting and explain what to expect from the process. The Criminal justice process can be complicated, but for a simplified flowchart of the process and further information click here.
What skills, experience or training does an ISVA need?
I attended specialist ISVA training prior to beginning my role as an ISVA. Before this I had a background in counselling and had volunteered at Rape Crisis for many years. This background taught me the skills of empathy, understanding the impacts of sexual violence and the importance of giving the client control.
What issues are survivors typically trying to deal with?
A lot of the survivors we work with are struggling with mental health issues. This can be low mood, anxiety or panic attacks to name a few. These can manifest themselves in different ways that impact their day to day lives.
The anxiety they feel around other people may mean they choose not to socialise with their friends and family. The panic attacks they can experience may mean they choose not to leave the house. They may struggle with motivation and/or getting out of bed. They may not be able to cope with their usual work pressures, resulting in them leaving/losing their job. This can cause money issues and additional stresses. All of these experiences can lead to them feeling even more isolated and negative.
How does your day start?
Due to COVID-19, we are no longer in our office, I am currently working at home from my back bedroom. The commute is much more manageable than it was to the office since it now can be done in 30 seconds! Because of this, I try to start my day early.
I normally start work at 8 am, I turn on my laptop and check my emails, I then switch on my work mobile and respond to any messages that may have come in from clients overnight. This could be anything from a call to ask me about their case or it could be a call following a period of crisis, which can occur late at night. I check my work calendar for any appointments. These may be telephone conversations with clients to catch up, meetings to help clients apply for criminal injuries compensation, internal team meetings or calls with external services (police, the crown prosecution service, witness care, housing association, drug and alcohol rehabilitation services etc.)
How else do you support survivors?
The role of an ISVA can vary widely. Our central support role is surrounding the criminal justice process, but we also offer help for survivors experiencing other issues. These can involve difficulties with drugs and alcohol, struggles with housing or they may need to access extra support from their teachers/bosses if they are in education/employment.
I have a client currently who has an upcoming court case. At this point, we have been working together for 2 years and so have developed a good working relationship. I call her to see how she is feeling about the case and if she has any questions or worries that I can answer. I explain how a court case for sexual assault will normally proceed and make sure she is comfortable with how she is going to give her evidence. This can be done in a number of different ways and it is her choice as to how she will give it on the day. I can be there with her in the waiting room before or in the courtroom if she needs emotional support. COVID-19 has made this element of practical support more difficult as the number of people allowed into a courtroom is limited. But witnesses are allowed to have someone with them for emotional support.
Who does ISVA service support?
The ISVA service is for anyone that has experienced sexual assault or rape and is looking for practical and emotional support. We help people who were assaulted years ago, a few months ago or even only a couple of days previously. It can be any type or level of sexual assault.
We support both female and male survivors or people who identify as non-binary options.
We support children aged 13 and up, to adults of any age. If you are under 13 and need help, we can refer you to specialist services. If you are unsure if you want to report to the police or not we can still support you and give you all the information you need to be able to make an informed decision.
What happens after the legal process has ended?
We will offer them support after the trial, no matter what the outcome. Our service is designed to be all-encompassing with us helping clients before they report to the Police and after the court case. The period when the criminal justice process is over can be the most difficult stage for survivors. This could be if the CPS decide not to take the case to court or after the trial is concluded. All other services drop away and they can be left feeling anticlimactic or disappointed with the result. Often over a year of their lives has been taken up with the investigation leading to a trial. Even when the defendant is prosecuted, this does not magically fix their trauma. And unfortunately, the statistics show that only 3% of cases reported end up with a guilty verdict. The job can be challenging at times, but hearing from clients that you really helped them or that they wouldn’t have been able to do it without you makes it worthwhile.
How has COVID-19 changed your role?
A work-day for an ISVA has not changed too dramatically since the outbreak of COVID-19. We are still working in the same roles as we were before COVID-19 and thanks to technology we have navigated new ways to work so that the clients still get the same level of support. We are still able to support clients during a court case if needed, but try to limit our face to face interactions when conducting other areas of the role until it is safer to do so.
For more information on the role of an ISVA and the court process click here