The Director Public Health introduced the
report and described how sexual violence was an emotive topic, and
could cause both physical and mental harm to survivors. He stated
that the Joint Strategic Needs Assessment (JSNA) had been developed
out of a need to view the topic objectively and give victims a
voice. He thanked HealthWatch for surveying residents who had
experienced sexual violence. He described how the JSNA had
discovered fragmented services for survivors, and how this piece of
work would try to bring services together. He stated that this
report was a proposal and would be up for consultation with
stakeholders, and then revised based on their comments. He added it
would then go to the Health and Wellbeing Board and spoke of plans
to hold a Thurrock Sexual Violence Summit in the New Year to launch
the JSNA. He summarised and thanked the Public Health Programme
Manager and the Strategic Lead – Public Mental Health for
their hard work as this report had taken one year to put together,
and was not an easy topic to work with.
The Public Health Programme Manager gave some context around the report and described how the JSNA provided further understanding regarding the prevalence of sexual violence. She stated that this report had engaged with 83 local survivors, six of whom had been interviewed, and 128 professionals. She clarified the definition of sexual violence that included any unwanted sexual acts, trafficking, or unwanted sexual comments, and added that these could have a wide range of impacts, which could occur at any point in life. She stated that sexual violence could make survivors turn to harmful behaviour, and 56% of sexual violence survivors turned to self-harm, and one third had common mental health issues. She added that sexual violence could impact on the survivors ability to parent, work, study, or form relationships, and this meant that a survivor might need to access lots of different services to help them cope and recover. The Public Health Programme Manager added that different organisations had responsibility for commissioning services to support survivors, and these services had different criteria for eligibility to access services, which made the system fragmented and could make it difficult for survivors to navigate. She summarised and described the range of services available locally for survivors to access, such as the Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) and the South Essex Rape and Incest Crisis Centre (SERICC).
The Strategic Lead – Public Mental Health added that the JSNA worked to identify local victims, and hypothesised that there was a large data gap between the number of estimated victims, and the number of victims known. She described how there were likely to be over 10,000 victims in Thurrock who had experienced sexual violence and abuse since the age of 16 (10,116 females and 1,985 males), however only 316 Thurrock victims were reported in police data for 2018/19, with the majority of these victims being young and female. She added that there was also a data gap between children who were victims, and children who had reported being victims. She suggested that this was likely due to increased safeguarding measures in place for children, however even with those arrangements, there still appeared to be a gap in the data. She described the reasons for this data gap were due to inconsistencies in data reporting or reporting systems. She added that there was also a perceived low conviction rate of the perpetrators, so some survivors questioned whether it was worth reporting. The Strategic Lead – Public Mental Health described how there was only a 5% conviction rate in 2017 of the perpetrators.
Councillor Redsell declared a non-pecuniary interest as she sat on the Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner (PFCC) Panel. The PFCC provided input in to the JSNA and also commissioned the interviews with survivors.
The Strategic Lead – Public Mental Health continued and stated that nationally it was recognised that some survivors reported difficult accessing services, due to the geographical location of those services, such as not being on public transport routes. She added that there was also a local variation regarding the knowledge of services and the different pathways that existed to help people. She also mentioned that the relationship between professional services was not always clear to residents. The Strategic Lead – Public Mental Health stated that this was a large piece of work and would include work around the prevention of sexual violence, such as teaching in schools and addressing perpetrators behaviours. She added that a toolkit would also be developed for all frontline staff, so the system of reporting and disclosure could become standardised across all services in the borough. She stated that a campaign of public awareness would also begin to ensure victims of sexual violence felt more confident in reporting or disclosing, and this would be collaborative with Essex Police and initiatives such as Project Goldcrest. She summarised and stated that the recommendations of the JSNA should lead to improvements in survivor’s accessing services, improve existing services and would provide strategic oversight of sexual violence across the borough.
The Public Health Programme Manager added that the proposed new pathway would work collaboratively with providers, to ensure that all survivors were offered a complete assessment following their disclosure, which would include housing advice. She stated that the proposed assessment would include aspects such as housing advice, counselling, advocacy, employment advice, and access to other health services including drug and alcohol, and sexual health. She felt that sexual violence and abuse specialists had the right skills and knowledge to help identify the needs of survivors, and could then seek to ensure survivors had streamlined access to all the necessary services that met their requirements. She added that the work on the JSNA would also start a discussion around how services are commissioned, for example joint contracts and outcome based performance funding. She summarised and stated that the next steps included a dedicated Sexual Violence and Abuse Partnership that was being set-up, seeing the JSNA through the necessary governance processes, and holding a Sexual Violence Summit to bring together providers and commissioners.
The Chair opened debate and felt this was a fantastic piece of work that provided a good understanding of the issues surrounding sexual violence. Councillor Muldowney echoed the Chair’s comments and felt it was a very moving piece of work, particularly regarding the under-reporting of sexual violence against children. Councillor Ralph also echoed these comments and felt that it was good to see survivors voices were being included in the report. He asked if a piece of work could be included focussing solely on domestic violence against men, and sexual violence against LGBTQ residents, as this was often under reported too. Councillor Redsell also felt that it was a good piece of work, and added that it was good to see sexual violence being taught about in schools.
The Accountable Officer Thurrock CCG asked if the JSNA could go wider, as there were issues regarding commissioning, and many sexual violence services worked across Essex, not only in Thurrock. Councillor Holloway added that as the JSNA developed, more data might be included as other agencies may want to be included. She felt that the new pathway would be supported by stakeholders as it was important to change the system so it worked better for users. The Strategic Lead – Public Mental Health responded to all the points raised, and stated that the JSNA had not included particular figures regarding LGBTQ sexual violence, but this was something that could be looked into. She added that as Councillors could be a point of disclosure for survivors, all Councillors would be provided with the same toolkit that was given to other frontline staff. She stated that throughout the JSNA, they would look to work with the School Wellbeing Service and future Mental Health support team to school to help children better understand sexual violence. Councillor Redsell asked if a summary of the JSNA might be presented to Full Council, as she felt it was important that all Councillors see the work being undertaken. The Chair also asked if Councillors could be invited to the Sexual Violence Summit, so Councillors could help survivors who disclosed, or could learn to spot the signs that a person was a victim of sexual violence.
The Chair also asked when the first meeting of the Sexual Violence Partnership Group would take place. The Director Public Health replied that the JSNA had to be signed off by the Health and Wellbeing Board first, but this meeting had been delayed by purdah due to the upcoming general election. The Chair asked if reports could be delivered back to the Committee regularly to be able to hear updates and developments, and thanked officers and HealthWatch for their hard work in preparing the report.
1. That the Health and Wellbeing Overview and Scrutiny Committee noted and commented on the content and recommendations contained within the report
2. That the Health and Wellbeing Overview and Scrutiny Committee endorsed the recommendations contained within the document