Agenda for Environment and Community Safety Overview and Scrutiny Committee ad hoc Panel - Support Services for Victims of Sexual Violence - Completed on Thursday, 15th April, 2010, 10.00am

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Agenda and draft minutes

Venue: Committee Room 2, Hove Town Hall. View directions

Contact: Libby Young, Email:, tel 01273-290450 

No. Item


Procedural Business pdf icon PDF 51 KB


    11a     Declaration of substitutes


    11.1         Substitutes are not allowed on scrutiny panels


    11b     Declarations of interest


    11.2    There were no declarations of interest


    11c     Declaration of party whip


    11.3    There were none.


    11d     Exclusion of press and public


    11.4    In accordance with section 100A(4) of the Local Government Act 1972, it was considered whether the press and public should be excluded from the meeting during the consideration of any items contained in the agenda, having regard to the nature of the business to be transacted and the nature of the proceedings and the likelihood as to whether, if the members of the press and public were present, there would be disclosure to them of confidential or exempt information as defined in section 100I of the said Act.


    11.5    Resolved – That the press and public be not excluded from the meeting.


    11.6    The chairman noted that if at any point in the proceedings if those giving evidence to the panel wanted to share any confidential or sensitive information with the panel and were not keen to do this in a public forum, then the panel would support this and enter into a Part Two situation. Additionally, the panel would be willing to meet with witnesses in a private meeting, and if there were any service users who would be interested in speaking to the panel a one-to-one session with a council officer and member of the panel could be arranged and all information given would be kept anonymous. If those speaking to the panel today were aware of any individual service users who would be willing to share their experience of support services in the city with the panel, then please let the panel know as they would very much like to hear from them.



Chairman's Communications


    12.1         The chairman welcomed and thanked all the speakers for taking the time to come and speak to the panel and for being involved in the panel’s evidence gathering process.


    12.2         It was noted that the scrutiny panel was interested in identifying what support services for victims of sexual violence are available in the city and where there are gaps in current service provision. The panel are also interested to learn what referral routes and pathways operate between the various agencies and third sector organisations involved in supporting victims, and how a more strategic and integrated approach to planning, delivering, and commissioning support services could be achieved. The panel is keen to hear examples of good practice as well as bad practice in providing support services for victims of sexual violence.   


    12.3         It was noted that there were representatives from four organisations present to give evidence to the panel and that each organisation would have about 10 minutes to present their information to the panel followed by some questions and general discussion on the issues raised. It was also noted that the meeting was ‘open house’ and therefore if speakers wished to ask questions of each other and observers wished to speak then the panel would welcome this.



Evidence-gathering Session pdf icon PDF 30 KB

    To hear evidence from:


    • Gail Gray: CEO, Refuge, Information, Support and Education (RISE)


    • Emma Seymour: Senior Manager, Threshold


    • Rachel Brett: Head of Support Services for Children, Young People and Families, Sussex Central YMCA


    • Eleri Butler: Policy Manager, Women’s National Commission



    Please note the Scrutiny Panel’s agreed Terms of Reference, also attached for information.





    13.1The panel heard evidence from a number of witnesses.


    13.2a Evidence from Rachel Brett, Head of Support Services for Children, Young People and Families, Sussex Central YMCA


    Sussex Central YMCA primarily offers services for families, and young people aged up to 25. The majority of the services offered are housing related or offered through the YMCA’s advice services. The YMCA does not specifically provide services for victims of sexual violence but does have a number of men and women who have experienced sexual violence accessing their services and disclosing their experiences. Most disclosures are through the YMCA’s counselling services and the majority of experiences disclosed are historical, rather that recent cases and clients are seeking support to deal with the trauma they have experienced as well as other factors which may have arisen as a result of the trauma. If the YMCA does come across clients who have experienced a recent incident of sexual violence then they will link and work with the appropriate service agencies eg child protection to support the client. Generally the YMCA will refer young people into their own counselling services as it can be difficult for them to access other services as these providers will only take clients aged over 16 or 18. When needed, however, the YMCA will link with a variety of other specialised services such as Mankind, the Survivors’ Network, Victim Support Programme, Allsorts, CAMHS, Social Services, the Clermont Unit or the Police.  


    Sussex Central YMCA has a lot of contact with mothers and young women who have experienced sexual violence as part of domestic violence or as part of an abusive relationship. These cases are normally picked up through the family services or parenting support services offered by the YMCA. The YMCA will work with these families or young people who have been affected by sexual violence as well as with the other issues that may be occurring within the family. Through the Safe Space project the YMCA works with the police, Red Cross and other organisations to offer support and assistance to vulnerable people involved in the night-time economy. Through this project YMCA has come across people who have experienced historical sexual violence, although there was a disclosure of recent sexual assault in the Eastbourne Safe Space project. The YMCA worked with the police to investigate the crime and offered support to the victim. 


    In the last academic year, 1551 primary and secondary school children have used the YMCA’s counselling service. Out of these, 30 primary school children and 30 secondary school children reported sexual abuse. This is approximately 4% of all children seen by the YMCA in schools. This figure can be broken down by locality: 4% of primary schools in the east of the city, 5% of central primary schools and 3% of primary schools in the west had children attending them who had experienced some form of sexual abuse. In secondary schools: 3% of schools in the east, 5% of central schools, and 5% of schools in the west had children attending them who disclosed sexual violence to the YMCA counselling services. At the Youth Advice Centre (YAC) run by Sussex Central YMCA, between 03/08 and 04/09 11% of clients reported sexual abuse. Figures for 03/09 to 04/10 are yet to be confirmed but indications suggest that this has risen to 12% of all clients reporting sexual abuse, rape or sexual assault. Demand for the YMCA’s services outstrips supply and there are waiting lists for accessing services. Service users accessing the YMCA’s services will often present a range of problems usually related to the trauma which they have experienced.


    Sussex Central YMCA has just secured funding for a Young Person’s Sexual Exploitation Worker. The funding has taken a long time to become available. The YMCA had identified a particular vulnerable group of young people who access services because they are homeless and who will have been exchanging sexual favours for somewhere to stay. This type of sexual exploitation appears to be affecting young women and members of the gay community. Young women in particular are being exploited in such a way on some of the city’s estates and are being passed around groups of men. There are known characters within the city that are preying on vulnerable young women and sexually exploiting them. The Young Person’s Sexual Exploitation Worker post has been set up in partnership with the local authority. The worker will be responsible for providing more information about the sexual exploitation of young people in the city, particularly LGBT and BME individuals and how pathways can be improved for those that are being exploited. The post holder will also undertake some work to raise awareness about this issue and will work with young people to enable them to understand what sexual exploitation and grooming is. Two pieces of research, a Barnardos report called Tipping the Iceberg and a University of Brighton report called Out on My Own, provided the evidence required to support the need for a Young Person’s Sexual Exploitation Worker.


    The Sussex Central YMCA’s main source of funding is from the Children and Young People’s Trust (CYPT). Other sources of funding include money received from trusts and grants which the YMCA applies for. Currently the access centres run by the YMCA are facing future vulnerability. A lot of young people access services through the advice centres based in Hove and Moulsecoomb. The Youth Advice Centres (YACs) operate on a deficit of about £40,000 which in the past have been subsidised through limited unrestricted funds raised though the YMCA charity shops. However the pressure on these funds has meant that the deficits can no longer be filled from this pot of money. This means that the YACs will be looking at closure or offering radically reduced services from next year. The Safe and Sorted project is only funded until September 2010. Both the Safe and Sorted project and the YACs are important avenues through which young people can access help, without these potentially very vulnerable young people will be facing complex difficulties alone.


    13.2b  Members of the panel asked whether Sussex Central YMCA delivered services across Sussex or just within the Brighton and Hove local authority area and whether these services were distinct or all tied up together. Members of the panel also asked if different local authorities co-operated in supporting the YMCA.


    13.2c  The panel heard that Sussex Central YMCA used to be called Hove YMCA, however as the organisation provides services across Sussex it changed its name to reflect this. However, out of the services it does provide the majority are within the city of Brighton and Hove, and all the services are distinct, so interests and services delivered elsewhere remain separate from Brighton and Hove interests and services. Although clearly having interests across Sussex means that some agendas benefit from cross local authority working, such as the sexual exploitation agenda. Depending on what the YMCA is trying to achieve normally interaction with local authorities is possible. Sometimes it just comes down to finding the right person within the authority to work with in which case things move very quickly. A relationship with Brighton and Hove City Council has been built up so it is not a problem accessing the authority in this city. 


    13.2d  Members of the panel asked whether the funding received from the CYPT was a yearly grant which the YMCA had to apply for.


    13.2e  The panel heard that the funding for the counselling services was on a yearly basis and was not applied for through a grant process. The community counselling provided by the YMCA for those aged over 16 is funded on a year by year basis by a grant from the PCT. The YACs also received this year £20,000 through the discretionary grants scheme. Safe and sorted however received no funding this year despite applying for funding from a variety of sources.


    13.2f   Members of the panel asked whether the Sussex Central YMCA received any referrals from the SARC at Crawley.


    13.2g  The panel heard that the YMCA was not part of that referral system; although victims of recent sexual violence could turn up at one of the YACs most of the service users YMCA had contact with had experienced historical abuse not recent incidents. The YMCA therefore had no formal links with other organisations for crisis related service provision although could refer clients on if needs be. The YMCA is more likely to come into contact with service users who may have accessed the SARC or other services in the past and may have even seen their case go through the courts, but have since had the support offered to them end. As these women require on going support they will seek access to other services which is when the YMCA may pick them up. Particularly as because of their trauma and the lack of support to deal with it fully women may develop other issues which will see them seeking out services at either one of the advice centres or hostels. Young people who have experienced the trauma of sexual violence are more likely to engage in high risk behaviours such as alcohol or drug misuse and will contact the YMCA to resolve these behaviours and the sexual violence which they have experienced is also likely to be disclosed. Vulnerable young people who engage in high risk behaviours such as drugs and alcohol misuse are more likely to become victims of sexual violence and more likely to have been victims in the past; although many will not necessarily identify their experiences as having been sexual violence and are likely to blame themselves for what they have experienced.


    13.2h  Members of the panel asked whether the work which Sussex Central YMCA did was integrated into what else is going on in the city to support vulnerable young people.


    13.2i   The panel heard that on a case by case basis there was a lot of work occurring between the YMCA and other agencies. However, at a management or strategic level perhaps enough integration wasn’t happening although hopefully the Young Persons Sexual Exploitation Worker post would help to encourage more strategic and linked in working.


    13.2j    It was noted that it is really important to link the YMCA work which is being developed  around sexual exploitation with the work being done on domestic and sexual violence by specialist services like RISE and the Survivors Network so that co-ordinated referrals can be made to these services, and to link the YMCA into the Domestic Violence Forum so that the YMCA works within the city’s co-ordinated community response model to domestic and sexual violence, given the links between sexual exploitation and domestic and sexual violence. Many young women who leave an abusive relationship or have been subjected to domestic violence are at risk of sexual exploitation. The Barnardos ‘Tipping The Iceberg’ research in Sussex found that girls being exploited had come from families where domestic violence was prevalent. Recent research by Race On the Agenda (ROTA) has also highlighted the impact of serious youth violence, gangs and group offending on women and girls and identified the growing use of rape and sexual violence as a weapon of choice against young women associated with, or involved in, gang violence and against sisters, girlfriends and mothers, as it is the only weapon that cannot be detected during a stop and search. It also found that these girls rarely disclose rape and sexual violence; that statutory services are not clear how they should respond to gang-related sexual violence, and cannot guarantee the safety of girls once they have disclosed rape or exploitation when using standard safeguarding models. (ROTA, Female Voices in Violence Project.)


    13.2k  Members of the panel noted that there were a number of speakers from previous meetings of the panel who had felt that they had benefited just from attending the meeting and speaking with other representatives from organisations also working to support victims.


    13.3a  Evidence from Eleri Butler, Senior Policy Manager (Violence Against Women), Women’s National Commission, and Chair, Brighton & Hove Domestic Violence Forum


    The Women’s National Commission (WNC) is the official independent advisory body to UK governments on women’s issues. Established in 1969, the WNC now represents over 560 partners throughout England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, representing around 8 million women. The WNC has a track record on working on the issue of violence against women and working with survivors of violence and service users to consult with them on their service needs to inform national and local government strategies, policy and service development on all aspects of violence against women. The WNC has a UK expert Working group on Violence Against Women, which meets quarterly. In 2009/10 the WNC also undertook a series of  government-commissioned consultations with women and girls affected by a range of forms of violence to inform the English Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) Strategy (published in November  2009); the Home Office Victims’ Experience Review (published November 2009); the report from the Department of Health Taskforce on the health aspects of violence against women and girls (published February 2010), and the CPS victims’ views assessment (submitted to the CPS in April 2010). For this consultation the WNC ran a number of focus groups across England to identify the gaps in current service provision and the safety and support needs of women and girls who have experienced violence. 579 women and girls from across England participated in the focus groups and from the discussions a series of key issues and recommendations have been produced, as outlined in the WNC Reports (‘Still We Rise’, ‘WNC Report to inform the Victims Experience Review’ and ‘A Bitter Pill to Swallow’ - hard copies of reports were provided to each panel member.)


    Some of these focus groups took place with Brighton and Hove service users, with the support from member organisations of the Domestic Violence Forum. The recommendations from these discussions are a very useful source of information for this scrutiny panel because women locally identified issues and gaps in support services and in local approaches to address sexual violence and provided suggestions for addressing these and examples of good practice in response to sexual violence. Locally and nationally the aim was to hear from women and girls who, because of their experiences, might not otherwise engage in this consultation process. The experience of women subjected to sexual violence is compounded by the additional discrimination faced by some groups, so the focus groups targeted, for example, women from Black and minority communities; refugees and asylum seekers; disabled women; older or younger women; lesbians and bisexual women, transgender women; women with mental health needs or who have problematic substance use; homeless women; women offenders; women in rural areas; trafficked women and women in prostitution. Whilst everyone experiencing violence will have different needs that should be taken into account when developing services, belonging to one or more of the aforementioned groups inevitably makes help-seeking and changing circumstances more complex and in many instances, it will reduce the level of protection and the number of services available. 53 women who were survivors of violence and recent service users in Brighton and Hove were involved in 6 local focus group discussions, including women who were survivors of sexual and domestic violence; women who identified as lesbians, bisexual, and transgender women; BME women; older and young women; women who were homeless, women with mental health problems and women with problematic substance use.


    It was clear from the focus groups that everyone’s experience of violence was different, but that there were clear commonalities across the board. Also, although not all women experience violence, violence against individual women and girls has a detrimental impact on the lives of all women and girls, and achieves its intent of increasing fear amongst women and girls in local communities, particularly of rape and sexual violence. Women, from very young to very old, spend their lives avoiding and minimising the risk of rape and other forms of violence, which restricts women’s ability to fully participate in society. Violence against women is defined nationally and internationally as an act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women; a human rights violation that is directed against a woman because she is a woman, or that affects women disproportionately; and an obstacle to community cohesion, and a cause and consequence of gender inequality. It includes  domestic violence (physical, emotional and sexual violence, including rape, from current or former partners and family members), sexual violence perpetrated by acquaintances and strangers, female genital mutilation, so-called ‘honour’-based violence, forced  marriage, sexual harassment, sex trafficking and sexual exploitation through, for example, the sex industry. This violence is not experienced by women in silos, and sexual violence is common to women’s and girls’ experiences. Service users should not, therefore, have to access services aimed at supporting a particular form of violence, but instead should be able to access services which can focus on a woman’s support needs in a holistic manner.

    Half of all women in the UK will experience some form of gender based violence. In just one week, 30,000 women will experience domestic violence and two of them will be murdered; a further 15,000 will be sexually assaulted and 2,000 will be raped; around 75 women will be trafficked into the UK and around 56 women will be forced into a marriage. Still more will experience sexual harassment, some will have their genitals mutilated and many more will be threatened with one or more of these forms of violence.  

    Both the Labour and Conservative Party, nationally, have recognised that violence against women and girls is a violation of human rights, a cause and consequence of gender inequality, and have strategies in place to reduce and prevent its occurrence. Many of the women involved in the consultations felt that that their human rights had been violated not only because of the experience they had with violence but because of their experience of statutory services. Almost all women the WNC spoke to had little trust or confidence in statutory services, and many agencies did not identify when violence occurred and therefore failed to respond appropriately to women’s needs. Often in cases of domestic violence where the police and statutory agencies become involved with a woman, she will not disclose the sexual violence which she has also experienced. The sexual violence may often only be disclosed when a woman comes into contact with women-only support services. This means that the information which agencies have on sexual violence is often fragmented and their understanding of the range of forms of violence, and how it can be experienced and in what contexts is not accurate. 


    Given the prevalence of domestic and sexual violence, rape and sexual violence was common and discussed in most focus groups. Women in prostitution, street homeless women, women in prison and women with problematic substance use all spoke of experiencing child sexual abuse with no access to support in childhood to recover from this abuse. Of those women who had been asylum seekers or refugees a significant amount of them had experienced rape as a form of torture in their own country and as a result of UK immigration laws which denies asylum seekers access to employment or benefits, many were forced in to destitution or prostitution as a result. Women who had been trafficked into this country and sexually exploited by family members, partners and others had experienced rape and sexual abuse with little access to support or protection. Disabled women spoke of child sexual abuse and rape from family members, partners and carers, and women from Black, Asian, minority ethnic and refugee communities  spoke of rape and sexual violence in relationships, and access to support was limited if they did not have English as a first language. Women in Gypsy and Traveller communities were especially vulnerable to abuse without access to protection, as were women being forced into marriage, and women with insecure immigration status told us they were particularly at risk of being forced  into prostitution or face  destitution because of immigration rules which leaves them without  recourse to ‘public funds’. None of these women had received effective support and protection from the statutory agencies they had contact with.


    What was clear from all focus groups was that women and girls experienced multiple forms of violence in their lifetime. The separation of forms of gender-based violence in policy and strategy, and particularly in service development and delivery means the complex needs of such women are seldom recognised and addressed. This leads to the over-representation of women who have experienced sexual violence in mental health, substance misuse and prison services, and results in their entrapment in the sex industry and other abusive relationships.


    In the case of the focus groups which happened in Brighton and Hove, the issues and themes which arose elsewhere were also common here. Almost all of the 53 women involved in the focus groups locally had very little trust and confidence in the statutory agencies and women very rarely knew how to get help and where to go for support. Very few women were aware of their housing rights and very few knew what would happen if they called the police after an incident of violence. The women involved in the focus groups felt excluded, isolated and rejected from services and recounted numerous examples of being told their experiences didn’t count, and that many service providers either did not believe their experiences or blamed the women themselves for the violence they experienced. Particular groups of women also talked of services ‘labelling’ them (e.g. disabled women, women in prostitution, women in prison, women from Gypsy and Traveller communities, women with problematic substance use and women seeking asylum), which they felt exacerbated the poor response they received and further hampered their help-seeking.


    The women involved in the focus groups said that they wanted effective and consistent responses from the agencies in the criminal justice system particularly in relation to enforcement of bail conditions. The partner of one woman involved in the focus grouos who was arrested was bailed back to the house that they shared:


    “When my partner was arrested for raping me, he was actually bailed by the police back to my house … He raped me, he’s taken to the police station and charged, and is bailed back to the house where he was arrested. That just tells him he has every right to walk back to my house and threaten me again.”   


    Women talked about particularly poor responses from the police and criminal justice system to stalking, harassment and rape allegations. Women would frequently contact the police with allegations of violence or threatened violence only to be told that there was nothing that the police could do about it. Women involved in the focus groups said:


    “I called the police on numerous occasions to ask if they could get a violent ex partner out of my building, for a breach of a restraining order, and they refused. They told me they couldn’t do anything until he harms me or someone else in the household”


    “Every time I called the police they said he hasn’t hit you, he hasn’t destroyed your property, yet I was getting continuous threatening phone calls, bricks through my window. Nothing was done about it ... … Eventually he got into my home and he raped me, and when it did go to court, he was let off – for not enough evidence! This man has moved on and my life has been destroyed, I lost my kids, I’ve lost my home. There was no justice for me.”


    The police nationally have clear guidelines and policies around what to do in response to domestic and sexual violence,  but evidently these policies are not being implemented consistently, if at all, on the ground. As a result women feel that they are not taken seriously and that the police are unable to respond when they experience violent crime or feel threatened with further violence.


    13.3b  Members of the panel asked what could be done to enable the police to respond better to cases of violence and threatened violence against women and girls.

    13.3c  The panel heard that the main issue was that there is a stark difference between the policies which the police have and individual police officer responses to individual cases. All police forces should be having nationally developed training on how to respond to domestic and sexual violence cases but they need to do a better job in being consistent in how they prioritise initial and ongoing training for officers locally and in their delivery of these policies on the ground. Managers should be checking police officers’ compliance with violence against women policies and taking action where they fail to do so.   


    13.3d  It was noted that at a community outreach  project run by RISE in East Brighton sometime ago (‘safe as houses’) RISE workers would work with police officers on the beat to brief them about the complexities of violence experienced by women in order to help them to understand the issues and to be better able to respond more effectively. Those running the briefings found that many of the police officers felt quite hopeless when responding to cases as they didn’t know what to do and how to respond to the allegations or experiences women were telling them about. This project was good for exchanging information and perspectives so that the police could learn how to better respond, and RISE workers could better understand the realities of being a police officer when they are out doing their job.


    13.3e  The panel heard that an example of good practice, and a recommendation locally, would be that when a woman first calls the police, at that very first point of contact, the police officer should immediately be giving the victim information about how to contact the specialist women’s support and advocacy service locally; this referral should be available for all women who call the police, whether or not they proceed with the case and whether or not women are deemed to be ‘high-risk’. Referring at the initial point of contact would enable women to access expert advocacy support and so help to reduce the occasions where the police are being repeatedly called out to deal with repeat incidents involving the same individuals. This is an example of a really good early intervention and preventative measure, which would help to better support women and hopefully prevent serial and escalating cases of violence against women from occurring.


    Women involved in the focus groups also criticised housing services locally. Women who had experienced violence commented on their need for access to safe and secure housing for single women, child-free women and women without children living with them, yet if they reported sexual violence or rape they felt that they were not considered enough of a priority within the system. There was also inconsistency in accessing information about services. Again, good practice would involve every woman who accesses a service being referred on to a specialist women’s service, that way, if an individual’s response in a statutory service fails then a specialist service can advocate for intervention to increase women’s safety. One woman said that she went to housing services for help but got told to go home, no one told her about the help she could get and no one told her about RISE:


    “I was raped by my ex partner in my own bedroom, I had bruises all over me. I went to housing for help, all the housing office told me was not to go home, go to a B&B… No-one told me about any help or support for what I went through”


    Women involved in the focus groups also spoke about the SARC.


    “The next day I went to the SARC in Crawley after going to the police…They drove me up there, it took ages, the journey was horrible, awful, then I was there for 7 hours, and they were taking photos of me and taking DNA…I had no support so I retracted the statement.” 


    Many women made comments about the SARC and the issue of travelling with the police and then not being referred back to specialist sexual violence support and advocacy services in the city. SARCs have to work to minimum national standards, however, across the country they all operate differently and some are better than others. The Havens in London are an example of good practice, and women in focus groups spoke favourably of their services. SARCs are not a replacement for specialist rape crisis and sexual violence support provided by women’s services. It is great that there is a SARC in Sussex, but more needs to be done to ensure that referrals are made back into Brighton and Hove so that those accessing the SARC can continue to receive the specialist support that they need, locally.    


    The women involved in the focus groups also felt that services offered by statutory Children’s Services through the CYPT locally were not equipped to deal with allegations and experiences of sexual and domestic violence. Social services were often cited as being particularly unsympathetic, with women often being blamed for their children’s situations despite the fact that they were the victim of violence and abuse. Services are unable to consider a women and her child’s/children’s situation together and too often blamed the woman for the abuse she was experiencing. Women involved in the focus groups said: 


    I’m waiting to see a duty social worker, but they never call me back. I have been waiting for counselling for nearly a year. I’ve tried to kill myself 15 times …Thank god Rise outreach service are there when I need them or I don’t know what would  ...  view the full minutes text for item 13.


Any Other Business


    14.1    There was none.



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