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Ever wondered what an Independent Sexual Violence Advisor (ISVA) does? #MakeChangeHappen

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Heard about ISVAs but not sure what it means or what they do? We spoke to one of the ISVAs in our Rape Crisis team at Solace to find about her role and what a typical day might look like.

In the time I have spent working as an ISVA at Solace, I have learned there is no such thing as a typical day at work. I work with around 35 women, at any one time, who have experienced some form of sexual violence, so there is a lot into every single day. Each client I work with has different needs so we always make sure the support we offer is tailored to them individually.

Since the criminal justice system is so unpredictable with women’s court cases often being postponed at the last minute or unexpected developments in cases arising, we have to be prepared to be flexible. However, when I do have the opportunity to follow a more orderly schedule, my day might look something like this…

Morning: When I arrive at the office first thing I’m usually greeted with a number of emails and messages that have come in overnight. New referrals and survivors’ enquires don’t work to a 9-5 schedule. I make sure I follow up with the clients I’m working with and specialist serious sexual offences (SOIT) officers who are working on their cases as well as getting in touch with women who have come through as new urgent referrals. This, for example, might be a woman who has been assaulted in the last week, someone who needs medical attention due to sexual violence or a young person under 18.

Late Morning: I use this time to make any urgent calls that need to be made to arrange meetings or answer questions. Reporting rape and sexual violence and going to court can be long and complicated and we help women navigate the process. Women I’m working with often have questions about what will happen at court or what’s happening with their case if it’s with the police. When I’m in the office there is also a chance to discuss more complex cases with the rape crisis team. This is one of the advantages of working on a team of ISVAs, as it allows us to share best practice.

Before lunch: I regularly hold initial assessments with new clients. This is a chance for us to get to know each other so they feel more comfortable and familiar with me and my role. It is important for clients to know right away that while an ISVA’s job is to provide practical and emotional support for survivors accessing the criminal justice system, I cannot know more than the most basic details of her case. I also take this time to explain what the criminal justice system looks like. I often use a visual aid, ‘Report to Court’, to go through the process with the client, as I find this helps to clarify a confusing and overwhelming process. These assessments also help me personalise support to individual clients, as they give me a clearer picture of what their particular needs are.

After Lunch: The courts eat lunch from 1-2pm, so this is often when we have the opportunity to attend court for a pre-trial visit with our clients. Courts can be daunting places and often clients have never seen the inside of a real courtroom before – their only previous exposure to the court might be through TV shows. This visit gives them the opportunity to familiarise themselves with the set up in court and can ask further questions. If they have opted to give evidence from behind a screen, to prevent her from seeing or being seen by the perpetrator during trial, the client will be shown how the screen works.

Late afternoon: I might attend an Achieving Best Evidence (ABE) interview with a client at the police station. ISVAs are not allowed to sit in on ABEs as this is where our clients provide most of their evidence to the police. However, we can sit outside the ABE suite, so that our clients have someone there with them for emotional support if they feel they need a break from their interview. This can often be an emotional day for clients as they have to tell their story to the police in quite some detail. For some clients, they may have never shared this information with anyone. Some clients find it very helpful to have someone to check-in with about how they are feeling after going through such an experience. If this is the case, I might end the day by going for coffee with that client to provide them with the space to talk things and brainstorm some self-care strategies before heading home for the evening.

 

The Rape Crisis service at Solace is a free service and supports women and girls over the age of 13 who have experienced any form of sexual violence at any time in their lives. Whether this was in childhood, 5 years ago or yesterday. We will support you to live free from sexual violence and make the choices that are right for you and help you to recover from what you’ve experienced.

For more information about Solace Rape Crisis click here

Freephone Helpline 0808 801 0305

Solace invites BBC to women’s refuge to highlight increasing threats to life-saving accommodation

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We invited the BBC to one of our refuges to find out more about how government funding cuts are threatening these life-saving spaces. They spoke with women about finding safety and recovering after escaping domestic abuse. Mary Mason, CEO at Solace Women’s Aid, was invited onto the the Daily Politics Show to discuss what needs to be done so that no woman is turned away. Watch the short film below and the interview here at 18min 25sec.

We refuse to wait, sit by and tell women that the support isn’t there for them. That’s why we’ve launched ‘Stand Together with Naomi’.

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It’s heart-breaking and infuriating that, for the first time, we are being forced to turn women away from our rape counselling services.

We know that reported rapes have increased in London by a shocking 20% over the last year. On average 11 women are raped or sexually assaulted every week in every London borough. But the funding we receive to provide our services is dwindling. It just doesn’t add up.

We have now had to close counselling waiting lists as the average waiting time is already 12 months in many London boroughs. Imagine having to wait a year or more after you’ve been assaulted, living day in day out with fear and flashbacks, before you get to see a specialist who can help you process horrific trauma and move forward.
Every women is unique and each counselling journey is tailored to her own needs. One woman who had experience sexual violence and managed to get counselling with Solace said:

“Facing your past, head on, is very hard – especially when the memories are so painful. The memories can eat you up inside and it’s hard to break away. Without counselling, the distress would have consumed me totally.”

It’s heart-breaking because we know the courage it takes to pick up the phone and ask for help to cope and recover from sexual assault and rape. Women tell us about the life-changing effects of counselling that allow them to continue living; no longer being consumed by what happened, but finding freedom again. One of the women we supported summed it up:

“In my final year of university my world stopped I was brutally and horrifically sexually assaulted. Solace is a charity who helped save me from drowning in an unspoken world, a lonely dreadful place.”

It’s Infuriating because with more funding we could help put an end to women suffering in silence. The tide is certainly turning and powerful campaigns and movements are giving women a voice and the confidence to come forward. Of course naming what has happened is a huge step, but then what? Speaking out, whether that’s by reporting to the police, sharing it with a friend or family member or joining in a campaign like #Metoo, often leads women to seek specialist 1-1 support.

Solace already has 15 specialist sexual violence therapists, and provides 3000 hours of rape counselling over the year. We’re seeing more than 650 women for counselling a year, but there are so many more women on our waiting list – at this very moment we have 170 women waiting for that call to say they can start their counselling.
Self-harm, enduring mental and physical health problems, and even suicide is not uncommon among women who haven’t had help after experience sexual violence.

“I came to Solace completely frozen in time, dead on the inside like a lifeless doll. Week after week a little bit of me came back to life.”

We refuse to wait, sit by and tell women that the support isn’t there for them – it’s unacceptable and dangerous.
But we can’t do it on our own. That’s why we’ve launched ‘Stand Together with Naomi’.

Naomi represents the survivors who use our life-saving services every day. Naomi was raped by a colleague after an away day company party. Like so many women she didn’t tell anyone at the time because everyone had been drinking; she told herself no one would believe her, that it “wasn’t that bad”. The man that raped her was in a more senior role so she feared the repercussions to her career. It soon became clear to Naomi that she wasn’t coping and found herself unable to focus, feeling anxious and fearful and was drinking more and more to blot out what had happened. She decided not to report the assault to the police but knew she needed to talk to someone and get help. She was able to access counselling and confront the emotional pain she was experiencing, as well as understand how she responded to the trauma and the silence that surrounded the attack.

Naomi found Solace and got the help she needed to heal. But many women don’t.

We aim to raise £50,000 so we don’t have to turn another woman away.

Thames Path Challenge

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Thames Path Challenge

If you love challenging your walking to the next level the Thames Path is for you. There are a range of options when it comes to distance and time so you can take on whatever is best for you. Look at their website to see where you can go.

What you will get?
An Solace running vest – perfect for your challenge
One to One contact and support with someone at Solace
A supporters pack with help on setting up your sponsorship page, training ideas and other fun things!

Thanks from everyone for joining our new and growing team!

On their website we are a listed in the Charity & Self Fund category, under UK & Overseas Aid. You can go through the application process and then choose us. You will pay them directly the registration fee, £80, and they will guide you through the rest of the application process.

95% rate Solace as good or excellent in annual service user survey

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Each October, we carry out a survey of everyone we’re supporting, to find out what is working well and where we could improve. In 2017, 418 service users completed the survey, 83 more than the previous year. We have now analysed their answers and some of the key findings are below.

• Overall, 96% of service users said they would recommend Solace to a friend or relative; 95% rated us as good or excellent; and 98% reported that their key worker was a good listener and easy to talk to.
• 93% of service users said we helped them to feel safer, and 90% reported feeling more confident.
• Our North London Rape Crisis service was particularly well thought-of – all the women who completed the survey said they would recommend the service to a friend or relative.
• Another strength was our specialist services such as the Silver Project which supports women over 55 and the Amari Project for survivors of sexual exploitation. All the women who filled in the survey for these projects said they would recommend them to a friend or relative and that their worker was easy to talk to.
• While the majority of those who filled in the survey (80%) said they found it easy or very easy to make contact with the service supporting them, we scored lower in this area than in some others.
• Several women said that they would have liked to access our services sooner or have support for a longer time.

“Solace has helped me begin changing my life and become the person I want to be.”
– Amari Project service user

What we will do with this information:

• We are redesigning our website to make it easier for people to find their way to the support they need.
• We are working hard on raising more money so that we can support women as soon as they make contact. We have recently launched the Stand Together with Naomi campaign to raise £50000 for support services to survivors of rape and sexual violence. You can read more about the campaign or make a donation here.

This International Women’s Day Solace launches urgent campaign to support 100s more women

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This International Women’s Day London charity launches urgent campaign to support 100s more women recover from sexual violence, as reported rapes in the capital increase by 20%

 

They might seem invisible but women in London are being raped and sexually assaulted right now.
In order to ensure every woman and girl that comes forward can recover from the trauma of sexual violence, Solace Women’s Aid is launching an urgent London-wide campaign, #StandTogether with Naomi, to raise £50,000 for life-saving rape counselling services.

Sadiq Khan, London Mayor, said:
“Keeping Londoners safe is my number-one priority but violence against women and girls is on the rise. I want to do everything I can to address this issue and ensure all women and girls in London feel safe – including funding Rape Crisis centres, Sexual Assault Referral Centres and other specialist services across the capital. As a long term supporter of the work of Solace Women’s Aid, I’m proud to support their #StandTogether campaign and the work they’re doing to support victims of rape and sexual assault.”

 

There have been over 8,000 rapes and 11,000 sexual assaults reported in London in the last year, a shocking increase of almost 20%.

Statistics are important but they don’t begin to tell you of the trauma, devastation and the psychological pain that rape and sexual assault victims experience. Without help some women end up self-harming and feel like ending it all.

Women like Naomi, who was raped by a colleague. Luckily Naomi found Solace and had life-saving counselling sessions to help her recover from the horrific attack. Another survivor said:

“In my final year of university my world stopped. I was brutally and horrifically sexually assaulted. Solace is a charity who helped save me from drowning in an unspoken world, a lonely dreadful place.”

But too many women don’t get the support they need, when they need it. Solace has been forced to close their counselling waiting lists and turn away women who bravely seek help. This can’t go on.

 

Mary Mason, CEO Solace Women’s Aid, said:
“Until violence against women and girls stops, Solace is appealing to London to stand together and support victims of rape and sexual assault; as we simply don’t have the means to help the rising number of women and girls seeking our help.”

 

The campaign will be launched at Solace Women’s Aid’s International Women’s’ Day event – 200 Women Stand Together. The event, in partnership with Mayer Brown International law firm, will encourage women across the city to come together, celebrate achievements, address the challenges women still face and pledge to make change happen so women can live safe lives and strong futures, free from harassment and abuse.

 

Sally Davies, Partner in Charge, Mayer Brown International LLB, said:
“Mayer Brown’s Corporate Social Responsibility team and London Women’s Network are delighted to host Solace Women’s Aid’s International Women’s Day event. We are committed to diversity and inclusion in all areas of our business and work hard to support the successful recruitment, retention and progression of our female talent. We also value the opportunity to work with organisations in our local community that are focused on improving the lives of vulnerable women. We are proud to support the work that Solace do.”

Volunteer Newsletter March 2018

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Happy International Women’s Day

I hope you enjoy the Internal Women’s Day celebrations throughout this month. This years International Women’s Day theme is #PressForProgress. Don’t forget to #solacevolunteers and #PressForProgress. We have many new exciting volunteer opportunities to get involved in this month, across many different London boroughs. We are especially looking for skilled and talented women who can facilitate groups for our service users. I hope you enjoy this edition of the Solace volunteer’s newsletter.

Volunteer Newsletter March 2018

Thank you
Volunteer Coordinator

Solace says #itsnotok to myths surrounding sexual violence

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Sexual Violence Awareness week is taking place from 5th – 12th February 2018. It aims to encourage the general public to join in the conversation about sexual abuse, by promoting the message that #ItsNotOk.

At Solace, our purpose is to make change happen – and so we’re joining in the conversation too, by addressing some of the biggest myths surrounding sexual violence . Myths are dangerous, born from a need to find sense in senseless situations, and in the context of sexual violence attempt to explain/justify violent or disturbing acts. This post hopes to help eradicate these myths, and the consequential prejudices and stereotypes that they strengthen.

MYTH 1: Women are most at risk when travelling at home late at night

No. In actual fact, the majority of rapes are committed by persons known to the victim (approximately 90% ). Date or acquaintance rape is very common, and assaults regularly take place in the victim’s home. The outdated notion of scary figures lurking in alleys is not only threatening, but misleading too – as it reinforces the message that home is safe, and rape can be prevented by avoiding certain places (putting blame on the victim). It also assumes a particular victim profile, i.e. women out in the evenings, further entrenching societal prejudices surrounding class and/or race.

MYTH 2: Women provoke rape by the way they act or dress

Let’s get this straight. Wearing a short skirt is not an invitation for unwanted attention. Only the rapist is responsible for rape. This attitude excuses sexual violence, seeks to blame the victim, and perpetuates attitudes like “she was asking for it”. Absolutely no assumptions can or should be made from a person’s dress or behaviour… yet a third of people in the UK believe women who flirt are partially responsible for being raped .

MYTH 3: Rape is a crime of passion
Perhaps the scariest myth for us, because the chilling facts indicate the very opposite. Research conducted with rapists indicates:
• Most rapes are premeditated and planned;
• Many rapists fail to get an erection or ejaculate;
• Perpetrators rape to feel powerful and in control, not for sexual pleasure.

In stark contrast, the above statement implies that sexual violence is impulsive – an uncontrollable lust, purely about sexual gratification, that perpetrators are incapable of controlling. It also serves to excuse, minimise and romanticise rape, whilst disregarding elements such as power, aggression, violence, control and humiliation. Not only that, but it paints an inaccurate victim profile, assuming that only ‘attractive’ women are raped.

MYTH 4: Women cry rape when they regret having sex, or want revenge

Behold the ‘vindictive woman’: viciously spiting an ex-partner, or perhaps lying to avoid owning up to a drunken mistake. This mythical figure accounts for an estimated 0.6% of rape allegations , whilst the associated stereotyping re-victimises and stigmatises the other 99.4%, undermining their support in seeking justice, and portraying women as altogether untrustworthy.

MYTH 5: You can’t rape a prostitute

The legal definition of rape in England and Wales, as defined in the Sexual Offences Act in 2003, is as follows:

(1) A person (A) commits an offence if—

(a) he intentionally penetrates the vagina, anus or mouth of another person (B) with his penis,

(b) B does not consent to the penetration, and

(c) A does not reasonably believe that B consents.

(2) Whether a belief is reasonable is to be determined having regard to all the circumstances, including any steps A has taken to ascertain whether B consents.

The key word here: consent. Consent is not ongoing; it is something that has to be asked for every time any new form of sexual activity takes place, even it is with a previous sexual partners or a sex worker. Sex workers have the same rights regarding consent as anyone else, and as such the transactions that they negotiate are only for consensual activities. However, the viewpoint that rape somehow does not apply in this context serves to further disempower sex workers, by providing an excuse for abuse and discouraging sex workers to report sexual violence crimes.

MYTH 6: If she didn’t scream or fight, it can’t have been rape

The brain responds to threat in different ways, and in states of complete panic our responses are reflexive and under virtually no conscious control . In cases of sexual violence, we refer to the most common physiological responses as ‘the 4 Fs’: Fight, Flight, Freeze, and Flop.

As Freeze and Flop suggest, victims of rape will often appear to cooperate, so as to minimise the risk of harm or homicide. It is therefore extremely common for there to be no visible evidence of non-consensual evidence on the body, despite this myth’s assumption that rape is always a violent encounter. This stance discredits, doubts and re-traumatises the victim, invalidating her experience. Consequently, disbelief is one of the biggest barriers to speaking out against sexual violence – and you can understand why.

For more information and for other myths surrounding sexual violence, please visit the Rape Crisis England & Wales website

Spread the Word

If it’s safe for you to share this information, then please help spread the word that #ItsNotOk, in support of Sexual Violence Awareness Week 2018.

If you feel affected by anything you’ve read, please call our

North London Rape Crisis helpline on 0808 801 0305.

Out support line is open 21 hours a week.

Monday and Friday 10.00am – 2.00pm
Tuesday 10.00am – 1.00pm and 6.00pm – 8.00pm
Wednesday and Thursday 1.00pm – 5.00pm

“The first person I told changed everything”

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The moment when survivors choose to tell someone about what has happened is critical. The right response can give someone the courage to take the next steps towards recovery. Would you know what to do if someone told you they were experiencing domestic or sexual abuse?

Solace training is developed and delivered by practitioners who work on the front line, supporting survivors on a day to day basis, drawing on their up-to-date knowledge and experience to help people develop the skills they need to recognise and respond to domestic and sexual abuse.

Our next courses:
• Supporting Survivors of Sexual Abuse, 8th March, 2018
• Supporting Survivors of Domestic Abuse, 20th March, 2018

Both training days will run from 9.30 – 4.30, at The Cripplegate Foundation, 13 Elliott’s Place, London, N1 8HX. Join us and learn how you could be a vital source of support for someone who needs your help.

Our previous participants said:
“The very practical and immediately applicable content absolutely met my expectations”
“I feel more empowered to respond on an individual and professional level”
“Useful to have practical advice, and to be up to date. Very detailed and comprehensive training – thank you”

Volunteer Newsletter January 2018

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I hope you all had a great time over the holiday season. Solace has changed it’s look and we are really excited to be launching our new brand. The volunteer service has been busy reviewing our policies and procedures to ensure we provide an overall better experience for our volunteers. Further information will be out in the next few months. In this issue read about our volunteer celebration and awards ceremony that took place in December 2017 and much more.

Volunteer Newsletter March 2018

Thank you
Volunteer Coordinator

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