‘You’re not alone’ – supporting survivors of rape and sexual abuse in Sussex

From emotional support and counselling, to help through the justice system, we spoke to the some of the organisations working to help people live beyond their experiences and live well.

Wednesday, 11th September 2019, 5:15 pm
Updated Wednesday, 11th September 2019, 6:15 pm
28/8/19 Caption: Stock photo of a rape victim PPP-190828-161106003

‘You’re not on your own, we’re here through it all’

For people reporting rape or sexual abuse, the criminal justice system can be hard to navigate.

Crawley’s Rape Crisis centre offers women or girls aged 13 and older support throughout the process, as well as impartial infomation on what to expect.

Yvonne Trainor, who manages the Crawley centre, said having a person to go with them through the process helped survivors have the courage to see a case through, if they wanted to.

“We have an independant sexual violence advocate, ISVA for short. Their job is to talk to women who are thinking about reporting and give them more infomation about what will happen if they report, what the process is. When they do report we can go with them to the police and if it goes to trial, they can go with them to court. They support them during the wait as to if it’s going to be charged.”

She said that some people contacting the service were not prepared or informed of the need for them to give detailed interviews to police about what had happened, or the handing over of evidence, such as their mobile phone.

“I think one of the myths out there is you go to police, you give information and it’s in court tomorrow,” Yvonne said. “It’s a long process.”

The gap between a report and a decision to charge could be a long wait and getting a case to trail could take as long as two years, she said.

Through that wait, the Rape Crisis advocate would be able to keep the survivor involved and tell them what was going on.

As the centre is not told specific details of what has happened to an individual, people contacting the centre can be guaranteed they will have impartial advice and it will not affect how their case is handled.

Yvonne was clear that the centre aimed to give immediate help and advice to anyone who asked for it.

“We’re always stretched but people can just ring up and say, ‘I’m just not sure what to do’.

“Everyone who rings up will get immediate support.

“They’ve been traumatised by what’s happened already, we’re in the business of helping them to feel more grounded.

“We can’t take away that trauma and what they’ve been through but we can help them out with the criminal justice system.”

She said that while there may not be enough evidence to charge or convict, reporting an incident could help police with a similar case or connected individual.

“What we don’t want is for women to stop reporting things, there are already too many perpetrators on the streets,” she said.

She said she believed the year on year rises in reports of sexual abuse, a common trend over the last couple of years, was now slowing down.

But sexual offences and harrassment were still an underreported issue, as she said an estimated one in five women and girls had suffered a sexual offence of some kind.

“Women that have suffered from sexual violence think that they are on their own, they feel so ashamed that they can’t tell anybody what’s happened.

“We’re here. It’s a really confidential service.

“We don’t tell you to do anything at all, we just give information about what will happen.

“We’re here to support you, don’t suffer in silence.”

Rape Crisis also offers group therapy, FGM support and outreach services for marginalised or vulnerable women or those involved in prostitution.

The Crawley Centre helpline is 0808 802 9999. Offices are women only.

The advocacy service can be contacted on 01293 538 477 between 10am and 6pm, Monday to Friday, or by emailing advocacy@rcsas.org.uk.

Mankind, based in Hove, supports men in Sussex who have been affected by unwanted sexual experiences at any time in their lives. Visit www.mkcharity.org.

An ISVA service is also available through the Survivors Network. See survivorsnetwork.org.uk/get-help/isva-service/

Giving life and support to those who have been abused

For children and young people who have experienced sexual abuse, there are a number of organisations that can help.

Lifecentre, which has expanded from Chichester to Worthing and Crawley, was set up in 2001 after its founder Margaret Ellis found there was no such specialist support service in West Sussex.

It started with a volunteer crisis helpline and now also has a team of fully qualified, professional counsellors who provide therapy specifically aimed at helping people of all ages who have been raped or otherwise violated.

Unlike other sexual abuse services in Sussex, Lifecentre includes play therapy, which allows it to cater for younger children.

Dr Lynn Suter, clinical director of Lifecentre, said: “For me, the importance of that is if you can start work with the child soon after the offence or incident, whatever you want to call it, you can deal with the trauma at that point, the child will grow up and they are less likely to have mental health issues later in life.”

She said referrals to the charity came through self-referral, GPs and authorities such as police, and the number of referrals was going up around 18 to 20 per cent year on year.

“Which is a bit disheartening in a sense because it tells you there are still a lot of people out there who need help but at the same time, it’s good that they are coming forward for help,” Lynn said.

“It means that just about any specialist agency you go to, there is a waiting list.”

Lifecentre’s waiting list, she said, was comparatively short at around eight to nine months. Other sexual abuse services in Brighton and Portsmouth could have a waiting list of over a year.

To balance waiting times, Lifecentre keeps its counselling service to around 18 to 24 sessions.

After that, clients are encouraged to go back and ‘do life’ for six months and then return if they feel they would like more therapy.

For Lynn, once a person has been referred to the charity, the important thing is that they know they won’t be made to disclose or do anything they don’t want to do.

The therapy is client led and the timing is up to them.

She said: “We do have people who are hesitant about getting in touch. The main thing that we would say is that the time needs to be right for them.

“We do have young people where a family member or a person at their school said they should go and they come for a session and have not been able to do it but have come back and said, it wasn’t the right time for me but I want to do it now.”

‘You saved my boy’

Play therapists at Lifecentre work with children from infancy to age 11.

Other young people’s counsellors can work with clients up to the age of 18.

Much of the work done with younger teens and children is based around using creative techniques.

The aim in play therapy is to give a freedom of expression in a safe environment, particularly for children and young people who struggle to put their feelings into words.

Creative therapy can help understand feelings and shift their perspective so they are less likely to internalise blame.

‘A’, an 11 year old boy, had been sexually assaulted when he was five years of age and came to Lifecentre aged ten.

By using toys, he was able to relax and gradually engage with therapy, come to terms with his experiences and identify his feelings.

When A completed therapy, he had begun to respond appropriately to boundaries set within his home and school.

His mother and teachers alike noted that he was no longer quick to anger.

His mother shared this with his counsellor: “He went from being an angry boy who caused trouble everywhere. He went to a happy, energetic boy who is helpful at home, does well in school and sleeps through the night all thanks to you at Lifecentre. You saved my boy.”

You can find out more about Lifecentre, its helpline and the therapies it offers at lifecentre.uk.com