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Broadchurch and it’s Impact on Survivors & our Support Services

Broadchurch and it's Impact on Survivors & our Support Services

We are absolutely delighted that the writer, Chris Chibnall, and Broadchurch production team chose to portray a storyline about rape which did not glamorise the attack or dwell on graphic depictions of the assault.  The casting of Julie Hesmondhalgh as Trish Winterman has created a character that many women can identify with and that accurately portrays the devastating impact of rape on ability to trust and feel safe.

Contact with Services

We know from feedback from our Member Agencies and also from the numbers of calls to our own Support Line that this series of Broadchurch has had a dramatic impact on victims and survivors, encouraging them to reach out for support.   The numbers are astonishing.  Both The Survivors Trust and Rape Crisis England and Wales (RCEW) have offered extended hours on their helplines.  Our colleagues at RCEW tell us that calls to their Helpline went up by 132% in the week that Broadchurch first aired and have continued to rise over the past few weeks.  Counselling requests have also increased.   Calls to The Survivors Trust Support Line have risen dramatically, with over a 1,000 calls received between the hours of 22.00 and 23.00, and an increase overall of nearly 2,000% compared to the same period last year.

One agency says they usually send out ten information packs a month to survivors contacting them for information.  In just over a week following the start of the series, they sent out fourteen information packs.   Agencies have told us that the number of referrals they have received have doubled comparing numbers from just before and just after the start of the series.

Many thousands of survivors have now been in contact with services for the first time and are able to access the support and counselling they need and deserve.

And it is not only survivors that have reacted to the programme.  Agencies have spoken on the positive and significant impact on other areas of their work.  One agency tells us that they have seen heightened interest in volunteering and in applying to them for work.   Two of their clients are now keen to speak to the press about the support they have received.

One CEO from a Member Agency commented on the personal impact the Broadchurch storyline has had on her: 

…being a victim in later life myself, it has helped my family and friends better understand the line of work I am now involved in and why I am so passionate about it, they now support and understand my career change more than ever before.

ISVA Support

But Broadchurch has gone even further than this and has for the first time highlighted the role of the Independent Sexual Violence Adviser (ISVA) Beth Latimer, played with care and sensitivity by Jodie Whittaker, in a way which demonstrates how this crucial support makes a difference for vulnerable victims/survivors.  The role of the ISVA is unique and not generally well known outside of the sexual violence sector, and few people understand the service provided unless they have had need of this type of support.

One element of ISVA support which we know has been controversial is where Beth supports Trish in the police interview, known as the ABE interview from ‘Achieving Best Evidence’.   The Survivors Trust provides training for ISVAs and we are aware that in some areas this is accepted practice in agreement with the police and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).  We were dismayed that there were comments that ISVAs should not support their clients in this way.   We take the view that the role of the ISVA is to always look to best practice and to prioritise the welfare and wellbeing of their clients at all times.  As a survivor focussed organisation we fully support ISVAs supporting their clients whilst they make their statement and believe that this is something that can ensure victims are supported to give the best account of what happened to them.    We encourage ISVAs to liaise with the CPS and police, as independent, professional practitioners to ensure the rights and needs of their clients are given the highest priority.   This is why the ‘independent’ element of the ISVA role and ISVA services is so important.

We are well aware of the legal guidelines that must be considered and that the ISVA needs to work according to agreed boundaries and with appropriate agreements in place.   We encourage ISVAs to be proactive in their approach to safeguarding the client, in particular through the investigative period.   If there are high levels of anxiety or mental health issues then it is crucial that ISVAs work with the police and CPS constructively to find ways of working with the client that will ensure best practice and most effective support.

A vivid example of the need for a proactive approach in advocating for victims of sexual violence is the long-term failure to implement the Guidelines for Provision of Pre-Trial Therapy (set out nearly two decades ago in the Youth and Criminal Justice Act 1999) resulted in many, many survivors not having access to Pre-Trial Therapy with devastating consequences and implicated in post-trial suicides.  Thankfully, awareness of the victim/survivor’s right to access Pre-Trial Therapy has increased.

Improved Support for Victims/Survivors in ABE Interviews

In a recent roundtable meeting with the Lord Chancellor we highlighted the fact that criminal justice processes continue to be highly traumatic for victims, with negative stereotypes and myths being used by Defence Barristers to attack the credibility of witnesses. However, even small changes to processes can make a difference to a victim/survivor’s experience, as highlighted in Dame Vera Baird’s report, ‘Seeing is Believing’.  It is in challenging the response victims get from other services where the role of the ISVA can achieve the most benefit for their clients, liaising with the police and relevant authorities to ensure that survivors are supported to report and to minimise any distress they may experience through the court process.

We believe that an ABE interview without an ISVA present to provide consistent emotional support does not actually help to achieve best evidence.  At the moment, criminal justice processes seem to be set up to manage and respond to how a Defence Barrister might challenge evidence rather than considering how to protect the health and wellbeing of victims/survivors as they give evidence.

We have asked the Justice Minister to consider strengthening the role of the ISVA so that this crucial support is provided for all victims.   The sexual violence sector has a long history of campaigning for victims’ and survivors’ rights, most recently achieving reform around recognising and responding to grooming, stalking and controlling and coercive behaviour.   We would like to see similar changes around support for victims/survivors in ABE interviews.

Currently, it is accepted that ISVAs can sit with their clients as they give their statement but cannot then support their client in court.  In a service where there is more than one ISVA, this can easily be managed, but there are many instances where workloads prevent this.   Furthermore we think it is important to lobby and raise awareness of the need for a service that can provide consistent support for the victim/survivor both during the investigation period, right through into the court setting, in order that they can build a trusting professional relationship with their ISVA. We do this because we recognise the significance of ensuring the health and welfare of the victim/survivor is monitored closely during this challenging period.  It is a disgrace that at time when consistent, stable support is most important for their client, in some areas the ISVA is prevented from providing this.

We are fully aware that ISVAs need to work professionally and with full awareness of the law and boundaries around evidence in criminal trials.  We have proposed to the Justice Secretary that working agreements are used to formalise ISVA support in ABE interviews to manage potential challenges from Defence Barristers.

In those areas where enlightened police and CPS work collaboratively with ISVAs to allow them to support their clients in ABE interviews, we commend the service being delivered.

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