What an Independent Sexual Violence Advisor (ISVA) does

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