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Guest blog: Providing the very best support to help victims of domestic and sexual abuse cope and recover

Posted: Tuesday 2nd February 2016
Blog: Blogs

When Sue Mountstevens was elected as PCC in 2012 she was very clear about her priorities and that she wanted to drive forward meaningful change through named leads in her office. As such I support Sue in all elements of her priority to tackle domestic and sexual abuse, particularly against women and children. This means that as well as other such groups, I sit on the Force Rape Delivery Group. While my role is very different to everyone else around the table, our work in the Office of the PCC (OPCC) contributes to the shared ambition of supporting victims of these crimes to help them cope and recover from what has happened. Together we are working hard to ensure that if victims do decide to take that step and report, they will be listened to, believed and understood.

Attending this and other Constabulary meetings helps me to support the PCC in her oversight role. I take queries to the group, brief Sue on what is happening and we talk about what actions she might want to take, such as discuss with the relevant chief officer, partner agency or Minister. Our aims and objectives are set out in the Police and Crime Plan and below I explain a little bit about what that means in practice.

Support Services

A direct way that the OPCC supports victims of rape and serious sexual violence is through the services we commission. We know that for victims, the police response is only part of the answer and in the OPCC we are always looking to see how we can provide the very best support to help them both cope and recover.

Last Summer Marc Hole blogged about our work to commission victim services – this included an increase in the number of Independent Sexual Violence Advisors (ISVAs) across the force area. When the PCC took office it was clear that there were a number of things on our To Do List and one on these was ISVAs – a vital service, yet funded year-on-year by local partners and facing increasing demand. I still remember the anticipation before the election that the new PCC might be able to fix this! Once Sue came into office with this as a priority, we took over the grant funding from 2013/14. But the real answer came when the Ministry of Justice gave PCCs the power to commission local support services for victims. We seized this opportunity with both hands, seeking to match provision more closely to need and over doubled our investment with a 3+1 year contract from 2015/16. We now have a team of ISVAs at SAFELink who have the capacity to provide more support across the force area, spending time alongside police teams. At a time when we have limited budgets I am proud that we took the bold step to make changes to improve the support we provide to victims of rape and sexual assault. If an ISVA has gone the extra mile to support a victim in your case, I’d love to hear about it.

In addition to ISVAs we also co-commission The Bridge Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) with NHS England, have funded a wide range of support services and projects as well as helped local VCS organisations to access government funds such as the Home Office Child Abuse Enquiry Fund. This year for example we are pleased to be supporting SARSAS to increase their service provision across the area as well as pilot a Restorative Justice Service with The Greenhouse. We also support numerous community projects through the Commissioner’s Community Action Fund with grants of up to £5,000. We aim to use the limited funding that we have to make the greatest impact on our communities. You can find everything we fund on our website, or if you have a question please get in touch.

Feedback from victims and partners

Sue and the team have visited many great organisations across the area and we are always offered such valuable and honest feedback about policing, community safety and the criminal justice system. This can come from victims, services, politicians, people at events; anyone we come into contact with as part of OPCC business. Sue is very clear about the value of this feedback so it is important that we listen and learn. So part of my job is making sure that we use what we learn as best we can. Following such feedback, we’ve been able to help the voice of the victim to be heard at the Rape Delivery Group. Over the last year The Greenhouse have been collecting service user feedback about the Police from the sexual violence support sector and reporting back to the group – it is a priceless resource and I am in no doubt that these soundbites continue to resonate deep within the organisation long after the meeting is over.

Raising awareness

Finally, we are all committed to raising awareness, challenging myths and sharing good practice both internally and externally. For example, we were pleased to fund the This is Not An Excuse campaign which received positive reception for its focus on the perpetrator rather than the behaviour of the victim. 

The PCC is invited to talk at a range of professional and community events and I support her to ensure we make best use of these valuable engagements to further the priority. That could be simply showing the PCC’s commitment, giving details about what is happening in their local area, inviting victim feedback or making sure that in speeches to local community groups, Sue takes the opportunity to raise awareness. At one such event when the PCC talked about this priority, a woman from the audience found the courage to come and talk to Sue about what she had suffered yet not told anyone; now at 80 years old, she would consider reporting the rape to the Police. A great deal of progress has been made in recent years to raise awareness and change attitudes towards sexual violence and it is vital that we keep up this momentum.


Alice Jones

Grants Officer and Violence against Women and Children Champion

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