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Independent Sexual Violence Advisers are being overwhelmed with caseloads causing psychological distress

12/05/2021
New study from Middlesex and Canterbury Christ Church University urges the government to improve the guidance and support available to independent sexual violence advisers

A new report from Middlesex and Canterbury Christ Church University published today makes recommendations to government to improve national guidance and wellbeing support for independent sexual violence advisers (ISVAs).

The research has been conducted by Canterbury Christ Church University and Middlesex University London, with support from LimeCulture.

The study is the first of its kind and its findings recommend improvements that need to be made to support ISVAs in this challenging role. The report will be launched today at an event hosted by Limeculture where the findings will be discussed.

Since 2005, Independent Sexual Violence Advisers (ISVAs) have been working in local areas across England, Wales and Northern Ireland to provide continuous support, advice and help for victims and survivors of sexual violence.

121 ISVAs and ISVA managers completed an online survey designed by Dr Miranda Horvath, Reader and Associate Professor in Forensic Psychology at Middlesex and Kristina Massey, Senior Lecturer in the School of Law, Policing and Social Sciences at Canterbury Christ Church University.

"We hope that the Ministry of Justice will work with us and take on board our recommendations. This is in the interest of both survivors of sexual violence and the staff who are committed to supporting them. Standardised training for advisers, guidance for supervision and national standards for maximum caseload are three key areas that we strongly urge policy makers to focus on." Dr Miranda Horvath, Middlesex University

The report focuses on the impacts, effects, coping mechanisms and effective support systems for people working as ISVAs and ISVA Managers in supporting victim-survivors of sexual violence across England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Three key recommendations include:

  • An urgent need for a national standard for training the first year in the role and the training should be accredited, role-specific and high quality.
  • Routine monitoring of impacts and wellbeing.
  • National standards for maximum caseloads. Caseloads were a key factor predicting psychological distress and vicarious trauma. Respondents had caseloads varying from less than 10 to over 100. A national recognised maximum number of clients per ISVA and national standards for caseloads would reduce the number of overwhelmed ISVAs and improve the level, quality, and amount of care they can offer their clients.

The Victims Commissioner for England and Wales, Dame Vera Baird QC, commented on the report. She said: “ISVAs provide invaluable emotional support and guidance for anyone reporting current or historical sexual offences through the criminal justice system. Considering the substantial court delays as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, their advice and guidance is needed now more than ever.

“This report contains important recommendations to ensure ISVAs are properly supported long-term in carrying out their important roles and providing consistent standard of service for victims, no matter where they are in the country. I hope the Ministry of Justice will study these closely.”

Kristina Massey, Senior Lecturer in the School of Law, Policing, and Social Sciences said: “‘There have been longstanding concerns about the delays victims of sexual violence experience when engaging with the Criminal Justice System. These have been exacerbated by the  pandemic meaning that, more than ever before, victims of sexual violence need high quality support from ISVA’s.

“It is our hope that managers, commissioners and funders take on board the recommendations in this report to ensure that victims get what they need and ISVAs are able to provide a service without detriment to themselves. Work related training, case load caps and high-quality supervision are key to this.”

Commenting on the report, Dr Miranda Horvath, said: “This is first report of its kind and provides an invaluable insight into what it means to be an independent sexual violence adviser. The field is extremely new ISVAs were introduced in 2005 so there is much to learn. While there is no doubt that the current situation is an improvement on what was previously available to victims of sexual violence it is clear that the toll on the wellbeing of the ISVAs is being ignored and needs to be addressed.

“We hope that the Ministry of Justice will work with us and take on board our recommendations. This is in the interest of both survivors of sexual violence and the staff who are committed to supporting them. Standardised training for advisers, guidance for supervision and national standards for maximum caseload are three key areas that we strongly urge policy makers to focus on.”

Stephanie Reardon, CEO at LimeCulture commented on the report: “LimeCulture have championed the role of ISVAs for a decade and as a national organisation, have worked hard to raise awareness of the vital support that ISVA services provide to victims/survivors of sexual violence,” she said.

“To date, there has been limited research on the work of ISVAs, and LimeCulture has been delighted to support this important research, which focuses entirely on the work of ISVAs.

“The research findings are extremely useful and we hope that the recommendations are taken forward nationally by Ministry of Justice, and locally by commissioners and services managers to continue to support ISVAs to carry out their important roles.”

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