Sexual Assault Victims Initiative East Kilbride

– in the Scottish Parliament at 5:00 pm on 16th June 2010.

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Photo of Alasdair Morgan Alasdair Morgan Scottish National Party 5:00 pm, 16th June 2010

The final item of business is a members' business debate on motion S3M-6200, in the name of Margaret Mitchell, on SAVI East Kilbride. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament congratulates the Sexual Assault Victims Initiative (SAVI), based in East Kilbride, on its official launch last month and the launch of its 2010 There for Them campaign, which aims to raise funds to help establish a 24-hour phone line and to cover the organisational costs of the charity; recognises the work of the charity, which aims to help victims of sexual assault by providing one-to-one support for victims and their families, acts as a source of legal, medical and psychological information to help victims and families through the prosecution process and offers relaxation and coping techniques to victims of sexual abuse; commends the efforts of the volunteers who work for the charity, and notes the particular effort of one volunteer, Dougie, who will have run over 1,287 miles by the end of this year as he runs three times a week through East Kilbride with his There for Them flag as part of the fund-raising efforts and to raise awareness of the campaign.

Photo of Margaret Mitchell Margaret Mitchell Conservative 5:02 pm, 16th June 2010

SAVI—the Sexual Assault Victims Initiative—was founded by Annmarie Campbell, a forensic psychologist and registered hypnotherapist who specialises in work with children and young people. It is a registered charity that aims to fill a gap in the provision of services for victims of rape, sexual assault and sexual abuse. I am delighted that some SAVI members are in the public gallery to hear the debate this evening.

I first met SAVI volunteers in March this year when I attended the East Kilbride crime prevention panel award ceremony, at which they were nominated for the East Kilbride News rose bowl. That is an award given to a group or individual who has benefited the community through their work for a charity or other good cause. Thereafter, I arranged to visit the volunteers in their new base in East Kilbride to find out more about the work that their charity does.

From that meeting, I learned that SAVI helps victims by providing a 24-hour helpline—this means that volunteers are there to help victims at any hour of the day or night—and by offering one-to-one support to victims and, crucially, their families. It is often forgotten that it is not just the victim who is affected by their experience of sexual abuse and that this horrendous crime has a huge impact on the rest of the family, too.

SAVI acts as an information point on any legal, medical and psychological issue that may arise for the young victims and their families, and it offers access to relaxation and coping techniques and other appropriate therapies for recovery. Furthermore, the charity has identified key issues that it seeks to address. For instance, it is a sobering thought that a child in this country is more likely to be sexually assaulted than to break a leg. However, the child who suffers a broken leg can go straight to accident and emergency and get all the help and treatment required, while the child who is sexually assaulted has only a 25 per cent chance of accessing an appropriate service. Clearly, the service delivery for children and young people is inadequate.

There is also a basic requirement to establish best practice for service delivery. Without that, there is the danger that the recovery process will be unnecessarily prolonged. Despite the efforts of the Crown Office to reduce the time between the reporting of an incident and the trial, the legal process is still too long. That is where the SAVI volunteers come in: they are trained and well placed to help victims and families, starting from the initial report through to the trial process and beyond, and they work in a way that will not contaminate any testimonial or evidence relevant to a forthcoming trial.

In addition, SAVI provides information about other relevant support that may be required. The charity receives no funding from the Government; it relies solely on donations as well as on the eight volunteers who raise funds to pay for its 24-hour helpline and the costs of running the organisation, and who raise awareness of the charity.

SAVI's there for them campaign encourages volunteers and members of the local community to get involved in fundraising projects from coffee mornings to sponsored events. As the motion states, the efforts of one of SAVI's volunteers, Dougie, are to be commended and deserve a mention. Three times a week, come rain or shine, Dougie runs through East Kilbride with the there for them flag. By the end of the year, he will have run a staggering 1,287 miles for the charity.

In general, awareness of the needs of victims of abuse and their families must be improved. Specifically, awareness of the impact of abuse needs to be addressed—especially the impact on a child's education, which is all too often snatched away by their experiences, causing major issues for victims in both the short term and the long term.

Sadly, despite supposedly greater awareness all round, most people are still in the dark about how best to react when a child discloses abuse. Few organisations train their members in the facts and even fewer train them in how to react appropriately to a child either at disclosure or afterwards. That is why, since the establishment of SAVI, the charity has been contacted by a number of social workers from throughout Scotland, most of whom have wanted information about the services in their area or to ask a few basic questions about what a victim of rape, sexual assault or abuse might need.

Given all that, there can be no doubt about the invaluable nature of the work and service that SAVI and its volunteers provide for victims and their families. I wish them well for the future and hope that tonight's debate will help them to continue to perform their vital work. I very much look forward to the minister's response.

Photo of Linda Fabiani Linda Fabiani Scottish National Party 5:07 pm, 16th June 2010

I thank Margaret Mitchell for bringing the issue to the chamber tonight. It is a worthwhile topic. I am sorry that, unlike her, I was unable to attend the launch of the there for them campaign, which I understand was very successful. The award that was given by the East Kilbride News was well deserved. That was the first time that I had come across SAVI and Annmarie Campbell, its founder. I have since visited the office in East Kilbride and, like Margaret Mitchell, I have been impressed by the work that is being done there and the absolute commitment of the volunteers. I do not have much to add to what Margaret Mitchell said—she has covered all the bases—but I will raise some specific issues.

It must be borne in mind that it is only comparatively recently that society has started to discuss openly the fact that child abuse happens within and outwith families and the huge psychological effect that it has on the victims and those who are close to them. It is quite daunting for families to have to deal with such an issue on their own or with help from social work departments, health boards and institutions. Therefore, it is very important that there is now an organisation in Lanarkshire that is staffed by people who have had direct experience of dealing with such sensitive issues.

I was hugely impressed by the informality that is apparent at SAVI and the knowledge and commitment of the volunteers. I understand that there are now 23 volunteers on a waiting list for training, which shows the recognition of the issues among people who want to help and do the best that they possibly can.

I was impressed by the manner in which SAVI deals with clients and those who come along for a chat. The service is described as non-directive but holistic, and it aims to create an atmosphere in which people almost feel at home and have confidence in those who are counselling them and offering support.

I was interested to learn about the effect that such abuse can have on people, and the way in which it manifests itself, whether that is through eating disorders, substance or alcohol abuse or self-harm. I learned about the importance of practical things such as housing: where people stay and the type of support that they get. The befriending element is important, because everyone who has been through a traumatic experience needs friends, and it can take quite a while for someone to build up those relationships again when they have a natural distrust of those around them.

SAVI has noted some key issues that require to be addressed. One major issue, to which Margaret Mitchell referred, is the time that elapses between an incident being reported and the start of the trial process. I understand that the Crown Office has been trying to address the matter, but the reality is that those cases are simply not being fast-tracked.

Court processes need to be managed to ensure that people feel confident in working their way through the system. The buddying element of what SAVI does is extremely important in that regard. I learned about schools, and how difficult it is for someone who has been abused in that way to try to fit back into the school system when their whole way of thinking about life has changed.

I see that time has moved on quickly—there is so much to say on this subject. I will finish by saying that although we talk a great deal about the voluntary sector—the third sector, as it is sometimes called—being very precious in dealing with various issues, the experience of groups such as SAVI is very important in dealing with this particular issue. SAVI is the only service in South Lanarkshire that offers this type of support. I would like the health board and the local authority to recognise the value of such a service, and to have detailed discussions with the volunteers at SAVI on how we can all move forward in the best interests of those who need this type of service.

Photo of Andy Kerr Andy Kerr Labour 5:12 pm, 16th June 2010

I congratulate Margaret Mitchell on bringing this worthwhile debate to the chamber. I apologise for leaving early—depending on how long the debate goes on for—due to an unavoidable and pressing engagement.

Out of what must be an unimaginable tragedy and challenge for families, and for one family in particular, a fantastic service has arisen. This unique service, which is available throughout Lanarkshire, will, I am sure, be envied—and copied—in many other areas.

MSPs often see organisations such as SAVI that grow organically and are able to identify gaps in our public services. Through their experience, they recognise some of the challenges and offer support. That is part of the fantastic work that SAVI does. It is clear to us all that SAVI has identified challenges at Scottish Government and local government levels in the provision of services, and it is the organisation's experience and understanding that have allowed it to do so. It has then been possible for those weaknesses—which Margaret Mitchell and Linda Fabiani mentioned—to be challenged. Of particular importance are the time between an incident being reported and the legal process, and delays in the system.

The NSPCC's report, "Sexual abuse and therapeutic services for children and young people: The gap between provision and need", identifies some of the outcomes that Linda Fabiani mentioned, such as eating disorders, substance and alcohol misuse, self-harm and issues of trust. SAVI works hard to challenge the idea that the victim should feel guilty, and it is great to know that the service exists.

Margaret Mitchell mentioned that a child is more likely to be sexually assaulted than to break a leg, and referred to the difference in access to treatment and services. The NSPCC report states that 21 per cent of females and 11 per cent of males have experienced some form of childhood sexual abuse, which is truly awful. That highlights the absolute need for services to be available, and we recognise that SAVI carries out such work.

We have already recognised the role and commitment of the volunteers in the service. It is heartening to know that they are there, and that there is a waiting list of those who wish to volunteer after appropriate training. We also recognise the work that Douglas Campbell is doing in running round the town. I am willing to make a commitment to join him on one of his runs and to put my running to some good use in that sense. However, that is a less important matter; what is important is ensuring that we learn from SAVI and other projects throughout Scotland about best practice in the delivery of such services. That is critical if we are to ensure that we sustain services not just in Lanarkshire but throughout Scotland.

We must also deal with the issue of the court processes. I am sure that the minister will wish to address that and concern himself with it.

In closing, I congratulate Margaret Mitchell again on bringing the debate to the chamber and recognising a fantastic organisation that is growing and developing and which has at its heart the needs of individuals and their families. SAVI is helping them to cope with what are incredibly traumatic situations and it is great to know that it is around to provide that support to them.

Photo of Bill Aitken Bill Aitken Conservative 5:16 pm, 16th June 2010

I, too, congratulate Margaret Mitchell on bringing the matter to the chamber and presenting the case in such an articulate manner. As the first non-local member to participate in the debate, I also congratulate the members of SAVI on all that they do. Over the years, there have been many debates in the chamber on the way in which the voluntary sector contributes to Scottish life, and this evening's debate is another classic illustration of that.

In the times ahead, when we will all be making important decisions on the budgets for various portfolios, there can be no doubt that Scottish communities in general will have to look more and more to the voluntary sector to provide services. It is indeed inspiring that SAVI clearly provides a service that is probably unique in Scotland for the people of East Kilbride.

Sexual offending is a very serious matter and it has the greatest and most traumatic effect on its victims, particularly when the victim is a child. Of course, the effects of that assault—physical, emotional and psychological—spread, because the families themselves suffer. We have to recognise that those victims by proxy deserve support from all of us. It is in that respect that SAVI appears to have been carrying out a difficult task remarkably effectively.

The psychological damage that sexual assault can cause a child is manifest. What the child needs more than ever is a listening voice, the ability to pick up a phone or go and see someone, to know what services are available, and just to have the words of comfort that are so necessary in the days and indeed years following an incident of assault. That is what SAVI provides. As Margaret Mitchell said, service delivery for children and young people in the national health service is in some respects not adequate, and SAVI is to be congratulated on meeting a real need in that respect.

I heard what Margaret Mitchell and others said about the prosecution service and how it might be sharpened up to deal with such cases. It is certainly highly desirable, particularly in the case of a young victim, for the criminal justice process to be as speedy as possible. Everyone's recollections vary from time to time, but we must understand that, for a young person, a period of seven or eight months from indictment to trial is very lengthy.

To be frank, I do not know how much more can be done. Perhaps the minister will address that. I have seen the efforts that have been made, but it is a matter of some concern that criminal trials in general seem to take so much longer nowadays. I accept that there are reasons for that, but when a young person is the victim of an assault of a sexual nature, the case should be expedited and concluded as quickly as possible.

Once again, I congratulate SAVI. What it does is little short of wonderful. It is warming to know that there are still so many people in Scotland's communities who are able to make such a significant contribution to those communities' welfare.

Photo of Hugh O'Donnell Hugh O'Donnell Liberal Democrat 5:20 pm, 16th June 2010

As the members who spoke before me did, I congratulate Margaret Mitchell on bringing the debate to the chamber. It is entirely appropriate, given that the previous debate hinged on children's hearings. All too often, issues relating to sexual abuse lie in the background of the behaviours of young people in the care and protection cases that go to children's hearings. Understandably, they find it challenging to disclose those issues, often because sexual abuse is a difficult subject for young people generally but also because the issue affects other members of their family. Consequently, they manifest disruptive behaviour in schools and inappropriate behaviour, and may find themselves in front of a children's panel. The service that SAVI offers seems to be uniquely positioned to provide a safe, informed and well-trained outlet for such young people. All of us should welcome that.

Another point struck me as I read the briefing paper that was sent to all members. As Bill Aitken said, we rightly praise our voluntary sector. The roots of many organisations that we know, such as Barnardo's, Children 1st and the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, which are now national, lie firmly in individuals or groups of individuals who in the 19th and 20th centuries identified an issue and worked and raised funds to provide a service. Clearly, that is what people at SAVI have done. They are to be commended on the fact that they have done it, as far as I know and can see, entirely without local authority, health board or Big Lottery Fund support. In this day and age, it is remarkable to achieve such a level of service with no input from statutory organisations.

I wish SAVI success in the fund-raising activities in which it is engaged. I must add the caveat that I will not join Andy Kerr in running the streets of East Kilbride; if I did, it might put too great a strain on the health services of Lanarkshire.

We have become increasingly reliant on our voluntary sector to provide services that, almost inevitably, will shrink as a result of the economic circumstances. As Bill Aitken said, it is heartening that there are still organisations with a single purpose and community spirit that are prepared to create a service on their own and to deliver it to those who most need it.

I congratulate all those who are involved in the provision of the service and look forward to hearing from the minister how it may be examined and, possibly, rolled out across Scotland.

Photo of Cathie Craigie Cathie Craigie Labour 5:24 pm, 16th June 2010

I welcome the opportunity to speak in tonight's debate on the Sexual Assault Victims Initiative. As other members have done, I thank Margaret Mitchell for bringing the matter to the chamber.

Sexual abuse is horrendous on every level. It scars the lives of victims and families—in many cases, irreparably. Some suffer one attack, whereas others are forced to endure a childhood—even decades—of sustained violent sexual attack. Either way, the horror of such incidents cannot be easily quelled.

Scotland needs organisations such as SAVI to be set up in our communities to be lifelines for the victims of sexual assault. As we have heard, SAVI was set up by Annmarie Campbell after her 14-year-old daughter was raped. It helps the victims of sexual assault and their families in the aftermath of such a dreadful experience. It offers them advice and tries to help the victims to cope with the trauma. As members have said, it acts as a friend. It provides medical, psychological and legal assistance, as well as coping techniques on a one-to-one basis. We have all heard the devastating stories of young men and women who have not had such help, guidance or support in the aftermath of sex-related crime.

Unfortunately, some of us have, as MSPs, heard from people who have been the victims of sexual attacks by family members or strangers. As a constituency MSP, I know how difficult that is to deal with, and how difficult it is to understand how individuals and families cope. Organisations such as SAVI are therefore much needed and welcome. As a Lanarkshire MSP, I am glad that there are such groups to offer assistance to victims, and I hope that more of them will develop throughout Scotland.

As other members do, I think it fitting that we commend SAVI on its "there for them" campaign, which is a fabulous endeavour that has been undertaken by Annmarie Campbell's husband, Dougie. As has been said, SAVI's work is gaining more recognition, and support for it is growing in the community thanks to that campaign. I read a statement by Annmarie Campbell when I was reading about the charity. She said:

"Even if there are days when Dougie can't run, volunteers have pledged to carry the flag for him, so someone will be out on the road every day of 2010".

That is a fabulous display of community spirit and unity against abhorrent acts of violence. I am glad that Andy Kerr, who is the local MSP for East Kilbride, has volunteered to run round the streets of East Kilbride. I understand that he does so regularly; he will do so now with more purpose.

Again, I thank Margaret Mitchell for lodging the motion. More important, I thank SAVI and its volunteers, as other members have done. Those volunteers give their time freely to provide the necessary support for victims and their families. I hope that their work will be taken up throughout the country and that lessons about the good practice that they have established and display can be learned by professionals in our criminal justice system to continually improve services for victims.

Like at least one other member, I apologise for having to leave the chamber, with no disrespect to members or the subject of the debate: I have another meeting to attend in two and a half minutes.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party 5:28 pm, 16th June 2010

I thank Margaret Mitchell for lodging the motion to enable us to have this debate and to recognise the good work that SAVI undertakes in East Kilbride. I put on record my thanks to the volunteers who are involved in the delivery of the service and congratulate SAVI on the recent launch of its 2010 there for them appeal.

I have been interested to learn a little more about the topic from Margaret Mitchell and the other members who have spoken, in particular about SAVI. I understand that it aims to support young victims of sexual abuse and that that support is given in many ways. It offers one-to-one support to victims and their families and operates 24-hour helpline support to them, as Margaret Mitchell and other members have said. It acts as an information point on legal, medical and psychological aspects that may arise for young victims and their families. It also offers access to relaxation and coping techniques and other appropriate therapies for recovery, and information and referral to other services if that is necessary.

All members present—I am no exception—have probably been asked, at one time or another, to provide some kind of advice or support to young people who have been the victims of the most appalling crimes of a sexual nature. We all remember most vividly the details of those cases, such as when a young woman, accompanied perhaps by a mother or relative, comes to us to seek advice. The memory of the pain and suffering experienced by the individuals who have consulted me will never entirely leave me.

The difficulties that a young woman who has been raped might face include being afraid to go out of her house or being afraid to go to certain areas where she perceives that she might meet her assailant or the associates of her assailant. In some cases, the victim might have been taunted by associates of her assailant. Low self-esteem is a common and difficult feature.

Recovery, particularly from the most serious crime of rape or any other serious sexual assault, is a slow process. Therefore, any organisation that provides support to females who have been affected in that way—although victims are not exclusively female, as young boys obviously can be, and sadly have been, affected by sexual abuse as well—is to be welcomed. Obviously, a large number of organisations and individuals are involved in providing such support. I know that Victim Support Scotland, for example, provides assistance to between 12,000 and 17,000 children a year who have been affected by crime. Of those, 200 to 300 are helped through the victims of youth crime—VOYCE—service, which says that 73 per cent of all victims of assault that it deals with are young people aged 16 or under. A significant number of those young people who receive assistance from Victim Support Scotland have been the victim of assault. Other voluntary organisations, as Mr Aitken and Mr Kerr mentioned, provide services on a one-to-one basis for the victims of the most serious crimes. We applaud the work that is done by such organisations, as well as the work of ChildLine, which provides support of a different variety that is also to be welcomed.

One issue that was mentioned in the course of the debate is that of trial times and of delays in court. Like Bill Aitken, I recognise that there are reasons why court cases are taking longer. As it happens, I was reading about that this afternoon in Sheriff Principal Bowen's "Independent Review of Sheriff and Jury Procedure", which we are to debate in the next couple of weeks. He points out that, nowadays, the need to examine evidence from DNA and closed-circuit television and the contents of mobile phones adds to the length of trials.

That said, one way in which we as a nation, we in Government and we in this Parliament can help to ensure that more assistance is given to victims, such as those whom SAVI supports, is to ensure that the criminal courts and justice system is organised more effectively. For example, members might be surprised to know that of 6,000 cases that are set to go to trial under the solemn procedure and for which citations have been sent out, only 1,000 of them actually have evidence, so in 5,000 cases citations have been sent out to witnesses who will never be called to give evidence.

Plainly, it is not possible—nor would it be appropriate or right, as it would conflict with the presumption of innocence—to try to remove those cases, but I think that one could reduce the number. I mention that because that is one practical way whereby, working together, we might provide more resources and time to help victims of serious crime, in particular children who are victims of sexual abuse. Although those issues are not specifically canvassed in the motion, I wanted to reply to points that have been raised.

Hugh O'Donnell suggested that we should consider rolling out SAVI throughout Scotland. The debate has highlighted the importance of ensuring that vulnerable children who have been victims of serious crimes of a sexual nature can receive a service from some source. That is not necessarily an easy task. I have briefly canvassed some of the ways in which such youngsters receive some support, but I am not persuaded—I do not think that any of us could say this hand on heart—that all the youngsters who need such support are necessarily getting it.

There is therefore a problem of unmet need, which we should address. One way to do that would be to learn more about SAVI and its work. It is a relatively new organisation and, no doubt, there will be evaluation, assessment and further communication between it and social work departments. There is a lot more work to be done.

The most useful facet of Margaret Mitchell's bringing this debate to the chamber is that she has raised the general issue of how we look after children who have been the victims of such abominable crimes and how we can do so more effectively in future. The debate has allowed us to make a start on some of these difficult issues, and Margaret Mitchell is to be congratulated on providing us with that opportunity.

I will close by expressing once again my appreciation for the contribution that SAVI makes to the lives of children and their families in East Kilbride. I wish the organisation every success for the future.

Meeting closed at 17:36.