Strengthening participatory practice with children and young people affected by sexual violence

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Young people affected by sexual violence in the UK help prepare other young people for court proceedings

Posted: Tue Jun, 2014

Author: Claire Cody

About a year ago I had two female clients A and C, aged 15 and 16 who had completed their 'journey', they had been to court and were ending their time with me as their ISVA. Separately both clients requested that as part of their healing they support SECOS in helping other young people prepare for court.

As the SECOS children and young person's ISVA (Independent Sexual Violence Advocate) I worked with young people from across Teesside who have been at some time in their lives affected by sexual violence.
I worked with boys and girls aged up to 18 who had reported an incident of sexual violence to the Police, given their evidence by video in the SARC (Sexual Assault Referral Centre) and have engaged in forensic and medical examinations.
My role was to support the young people from that point and help them navigate through the criminal justice process. I was an advocate for them when they wanted updates or did not understand police, witness care or Crown Prosecution procedures.
About a year ago I had two female clients A and C, aged 15 and 16 who had completed their 'journey', they had been to court and were ending their time with me as their ISVA. Separately both clients requested that as part of their healing they support SECOS in helping other young people prepare for court.
Neither client had knowledge of the other but once they were introduced they began to develop their roles as 'peer supporters' and worked together to meet the support needs of future ISVA clients.
A and C decided together that they would like to be introduced to clients before they were due to go to trial, A and C felt that they would have benefited from talking to someone their own age who had been through a similar experience, they felt they would have liked support from a peer to develop coping strategies and they felt they had questions that only a peer who had been to court would be able to answer.
A and C produced a contract that would ensure that their work was safe and had boundaries in place and agreed that they and the client needed to be protected. A and C agreed that they would not share their personal story but that it would be useful to talk about feelings and experiences in the run up to the trial and whilst giving evidence.
Both A and C were witnesses in trials where the defendant was ultimately acquitted; they use their experiences to equip and prepare other young people for any court outcome, they explain the reasons behind jury decisions whilst maintaining the stance that is the Barnardo's tag line: 'we believe in children'.
A and C have reviewed their inputs and have now decided that they should meet clients during the sixth session with the ISVA, they then meet the client once a decision has been made by Police or CPS to proceed (or not) to court and they begin to help young people come to terms with this process. A and C provide vital support in the run up to the trial by answering questions and responding to worries or muddles following a pre-court visit. They have supported around twenty young people so far.
A and C have developed a child friendly leaflet explaining the criminal justice process and in particular they refer to local procedures and what to expect at a trial in Teesside Crown Court. A and C have attended ISVA practitioner meetings advising ISVAs from other agencies within Teesside on how to improve their service, A and C have also met with ushers at Teesside Crown Court to consult on how best to meet the needs of young witnesses.
Here are some quotes from A and C
'Being a peer supporter makes me feel empowered, when we speak to young people I feel like I've made a difference'.
'Young people might be scared and we can help, if we can help one young person we can change anything'.
'Being a peer supporter means we can tell other young people how it's going to be, we can be honest from our own direct perspective. SECOS workers are the same, they don't brush things under the carpet but they're not in your face either, there is balance and a mutual respect.'