Careers: Independent sexual violence advisers


Victims of sexual abuse receive support from ISVAs to overcome the trauma, writes Charlotte Goddard.

What is an Independent sexual violence adviser (ISVA)?

ISVAs work with victims of serious sexual crimes, such as rape, sexual assault, sexual abuse and childhood sexual abuse. Their job is to ensure victims have the best advice on what counselling and other services are available, on the process involved in reporting a crime to the police, and on taking their case through the criminal justice process, should they choose to do so.

Is the job market expanding or contracting?

The role was established in 2006 when the Labour government funded the creation of 38 ISVAs across England and Wales. There are currently 113 ISVAs linked into The Survivors Trust (www.thesurvivorstrust.org) - 99 in England and 14 in Wales. "Funding for ISVAs has been predominantly through the Home Office and, therefore, limited to England and Wales, with Scotland and Northern Ireland having devolved responsibilities," says Fay Maxted, chief executive of The Survivors Trust. "We anticipate that eventually there will be many more ISVAs throughout all four nations."

As part of its Call to End Violence Against Women and Girls Action Plan published earlier this year, the coalition government said it would allocate £1.72m each year up to 2015 to fund ISVAs, based in either voluntary sector organisations or sexual assault referral centres; this is equivalent to 86 posts a year. "It has always been the intention that local funding, through local authorities, police or health, would eventually replace Home Office funding," says Maxted. "Some ISVAs have been funded through charitable trusts and in many cases in the voluntary sector ISVAs are match-funded through their own agency's support, providing management and office overheads."

What skills and qualifications does someone currently need to become an ISVA?

The role of the ISVA demands a complex mix of skills and knowledge to enable them to respond to the needs of their clients within the framework of the criminal justice system and wider social settings, explains Maxted. "For this reason, many ISVAs have been recruited from specialist sexual violence services, both voluntary and statutory, since it is in these settings that someone is able to develop the relevant skills and awareness," she says. These include social workers, counsellors and independent domestic violence advisers.

The Survivors Trust, Rape Crisis England and Wales and other specialist sexual violence services are working with the sector skills council Skills for Justice to develop national occupational standards for ISVAs and ISVA service managers.

The Survivors Trust offers Level 3 accredited training for ISVA practitioners and ISVA service managers. The training will be mapped to national occupational standards as they are developed.

Do ISVAs work only with children and young people?

ISVAs usually work with adults as well. There are some specialist children and young persons' ISVA roles. Children or young people can access ISVA services by referrals from teachers or youth workers, or by contacting an ISVA directly; a list is available at www.thesurvivorstrust.org.

Is there a professional body for ISVAs?

The Survivors Trust has created a network for ISVAs to liaise with other professionals working in specialist advocacy roles throughout the UK. It runs forums for ISVAs and ISVA service managers and is running the first national conference for ISVA practitioners later this month.

"Because the role is still fairly new, it is inevitable that practice issues and partnership issues are arising continually for ISVAs," says Maxted. "Our networks and national meetings allow them to share good practice, support each other and identify issues of practice that it is relevant to challenge. For example, it has taken some time for ISVA support to be seen as appropriate within the courts. Fortunately, the benefits to the victims are now well recognised."

MY JOB - LYNDSEY MAY ISVA, NEW PATHWAYS

Lyndsey May has been employed as an ISVA for nearly three years. She has previously worked in victim support and is a qualified counsellor with training in play therapy and work with victims of sexual violence.

While the centre she works in has an examination room, under-16s are examined at the hospital by a paediatric doctor, then referred on. All clients are contacted within 72 hours of referral.

"I give them a space to talk, and also provide support for their families," she says. "It can sometimes take 12 months from the initial contact until the court case. With younger ones I will do role-plays and use books, paper or modelling clay." May also supports clients if the police or prosecution service decides to take no further action or there is a not guilty verdict, as well as if clients decide they do not want a court case.

"I find it so rewarding, and while it can be tough as you are dealing with major trauma, there is always someone on the end of a phone for me if I am struggling. At the end of the day I go home and I go for a walk because you can't go home and talk about things."

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