Posted: Wednesday 7th December 2016
Back in September I visited the Safelink Independent Sexual Violence Advisor (ISVA) Service at Bristol Crown Court and then at their head office - I’ve been asked to share my experience in this blog.
This is a service commissioned by the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner (OPCC) that I oversee along with Constabulary and procurement colleagues. It is one of a range of victim services we commissioned which started in April 2015, but has been in existence for some time. While quarterly performance reports give you one side of a service in terms of numbers and outcomes, there is nothing quite like seeing it with your own eyes.
I started my visit on a sunny Tuesday morning waiting for Debbie Naylor, ISVA Manager outside Bristol Crown Court. I’ve never been into a court building before; I tried to contemplate how the unknowns I faced would make a victim feel on top of the fact they are about to go and give evidence about a highly traumatic and personal experience – exactly which street is the court building on…I think I’ve seen it on TV? Who are these other people waiting outside the court? What should I expect going through security? Where will we go next?
Debbie arrived and took me through to the Victim Suite which offers a degree of sanctuary in such an intimidating environment. The case we were due to see didn’t take place that day so we decided to sit in the public gallery for a sexual assault case that did not have an ISVA. This might seem strange on an day shadowing the ISVA service but it showed in sharp relief exactly what is missing when an ISVA referral isn’t made or taken up: the victim wouldn’t have had a plan around entering the building, what to do if they saw the defendant in a public space, where they would go after giving evidence. They hadn’t seen their video evidence beforehand so there were delays while technical arrangements were put in place for them to watch it remotely. They didn’t have the ISVA by their side to look out for their interests in the court room. They left the court building alone back onto the busy streets of Bristol after they had finished giving evidence.
A few days later I met with the rest of the ISVA team at their office in central Bristol. Each week they meet to de-brief on their caseload and talk through any issues. It was fascinating to hear the range of clients they were supporting and how they help each other. They have a new database which helps them keep track of their significant caseloads (currently at 65-75 per ISVA) and maintain regular contact with their clients as part of their care plan. They all so clearly love what they do, providing unwavering care and commitment to supporting vulnerable victims. They are also a useful sounding board when thinking about how the criminal justice experience could be improved and I have taken away a number of issues to discuss with the PCC.
If you want to find out more about the ISVA service visit their website or find out when they are next at a Police site near you.
Senior Commissioning and Policy Officer
Officer of the Police and Crime Commissioner