Suki Binning, Interventions Alliance Chief Social Worker/Executive Director of Justice, Social Care and Skills at Seetec
The consequences of sexual violence are not just physical – as a result of such crimes, there is emotional and psychological trauma, which has a lasting impact on victims. #ITSNOTOK that there has been an increase in the number of victims of sexual violence – latest crime figures for the year ending September 2021 show that recorded cases were up 12 per cent on the previous period, according to the Office for National Statistics, across police forces in England and Wales (ONS Figures). In the last few weeks the national press covered allegations that a premier league footballer had been accused of physical violence and sexual assault by a now former partner – actions perceived to be unacceptable in our society, but are far too common place across all walks of life.
Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence Awareness Week is an opportunity to reflect on the response of the criminal justice system and provide a focus for debate about how to support victims. It is also an occasion to pause and take time to attempt to consider, debate and look at ways to address the behaviours that lead people to consider carrying out a devastating campaign of violence. There is also a wider challenge about raising awareness and educating society at large about sexual violence, to ensure a more open conversation is had in the first place.
Breaking down barriers preventing more victims coming forward is a key factor. The Government, through Operation Soteria, has begun to change the way rape is investigated. Focusing on suspects behaviour, not the victims, is the right approach. Five police forces have already piloted Operation Soteria, and a programme of expansion means that 14 further forces are in the process of fully adopting the approach alongside their respective Crown Prosecution Service area. It is fair to say that the timeline for Operation Soteria could be more ambitious to ensure force take up is moving at a more rapid pace. Although such an approach needs time to bed in and the identified academic-led research, which will produce recommendations for implementation, will take time to conclude, an injection of momentum in the process to bring the reviews forward would be welcome.
Work on the Victims’ Bill has the potential to deliver a significant step towards providing a better environment for people to feel able to come forward and be a more willing participant as part of the criminal justice system. Enhancing engagement, boosting advocacy support, and introducing an improved complaints process are all important steps, but it is the more personalised support that can make a difference too. Funding an increase in the number of Independent Sexual and Domestic Advisers to provide impartial information to survivors of such violence is the right thing to do, but given the nature of the victims they deal with, there is an argument that the Government should be investing more in their training to support individuals to manage the severe psychological and physical impacts caused by these crimes.
There is rightly a keen focus on the support for victims – that is the priority – but if more progress is going to be made to prevent sexual violence, a greater understanding of the reasons why perpetrators carry out their crimes needs to be considered in a concerted effort to eliminate such intent in the future. This is where community-based interventions make a difference. At Interventions Alliance, our domestic abuse programmes, targeted at men and women who show a pattern of violence against their partner, work with participants to confront their actions and take greater personal responsibility to overcome their behaviours.
We are currently working with the Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner to deploy our stalking initiative, the only UK intervention model approved by the British Psychological Society, to address stalking behaviour. Our Compulsive Obsessive Behaviour Intervention aims to steer perpetrators away from reoffending to protect victims. By equipping perpetrators with new skills, the ambition is, through an evidence-led approach, to move them further along their rehabilitation journey to break the cycle of abuse they previously normalised in their own minds. This type of targeted intervention to address stalking is intended to reduce the likelihood of an escalation in behaviour.
Sexual violence has no place in our society, but the wider challenge for the criminal justice system is to enhance confidence that when victims come forward, they can feel reassured that they will follow a process that guarantees, as much as possible, that their voice will be heard, and that they will receive the support needed to take their case forward. The Government still has more work to do to make this a reality. During this year’s Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence Awareness Week, highlighting the need to improve victims’ experiences of the criminal justice system matters because it can help more people to rebuild their lives free from the fear that justice will not be served.