A stack of flies

Survivors of Domestic, and Sexual Abuse: Challenging Pre-Trial Therapy Guidelines

Content warning: sexual violence, domestic violence, sexual abuse, rape.

Disclaimer: There are many types of sexual violence and abuse that people can experience, and the range of words used in this blog intend to reflect this as much as possible.

By Erene Hadjiioannou

At the time of writing, the British news is not long past reporting on two of the latest high-profile sexual abuse cases, namely: the Cyprus rape case and the Manchester man imprisoned for life for committing over one hundred and thirty rapes towards men. A quick scan of the major newspapers this week shows no sign of them.

For those who have experienced any kind of sexual violence, the brief periods of attention the public gives such life-changing matters is identical to how much a survivor’s personal needs are missed in the search for justice, and therapeutic support. This becomes ever more real for survivors who decide to report to the Police, and speak to a Counsellor or a Psychotherapist at the same time, because of guidelines set by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) on how the latter can be delivered.

These guidelines refer to this type of therapeutic support as ‘pre-trial therapy’, and state that: an individual who falls into both of the aforementioned categories is unable to talk to their Counsellor or Psychotherapist about what happened to them. This is because their verbal account of sexual violence they have experienced is their evidence in their case, which must be protected. For more information on this, take a look at my last blog for Inspiring Women Changemakers.

This has been a major concern for myself, and two other members of the Inspiring Women Changemakers (IWC) network: Dorothy Hodgkinson, and Tayba Azim. I am a UKCP registered Integrative Psychotherapist specialising in sexual violence; Dorothy is an Independent Advocate, Facilitator, and Coach; and Tayba is an Integrative Psychotherapist with an interest in supporting female survivors of domestic violence within the South Asian community.

We have each witnessed repeatedly the issues in understanding, adhering to, and communicating the guidelines with every survivor we have supported. Together as a steering group we have been aiming to influence the current revision of the CPS guidelines on pre-trial therapy, in order to try and tackle these issues. One month after coming together with IWC Founder Anj Handa’s support in September 2019, a roundtable meeting was organised that included professionals from Leeds Women’s Aid, Shoosmiths Solicitors, KBW Chambers, and Women and Equalities Minister Liz Truss.

It was extremely beneficial to have both the legal, and therapeutic aspects of pre-trial therapy spoken to. It mirrored our main aim of creating more conversations between these professions. Above all, we wanted to discuss how best to meet the needs of survivors navigating both systems simultaneously rather than having them become lost in such systems.

The next challenge was unpicking each clause in the CPS guidelines, which allowed the steering group to identify several themes in reading it as therapeutic, and support professionals:

  • Communication between each person involved in the process, especially the survivor at the centre of it all,
  • Cultural oversights that fail to truly address the impact of important individual factors such as faith, sexuality, and ethnic background of a survivor,
  • Understanding what therapy is, including what is isn’t given that the guidelines appear to view it as potentially a form of coaching,
  • Training all professionals involved so that each understands, works within, and supports survivors from their profession whilst navigating the system of the other profession,
  • Assessment of the need and/or appropriateness of therapy, including who makes these decisions, is unclear.
  • Increasing understanding of the criminal justice system for Psychotherapists, and Counsellors so that we can better support survivors.

In January 2020, we met with a criminal Barrister from KBW Chambers to collaboratively address these concerns. This was a successful meeting that highlighted the application of them in a therapeutic space as difficult because they are primarily written for legal professionals, using a different language.

The steering group was already aware of the complexities of the criminal justice process, and learning more about other law that intersected with the handling of a sexual offence was illuminating. Recommendations on improving the guidelines, and the application of them in practice, were discussed. Further meetings have been scheduled, with interest from the CPS being expressed, which we find hopeful.

Our attention was repeatedly brought back to how much of this is unknown for Counsellors, and Psychotherapists. The prevalence of sexual violence means that every single practitioner will meet survivors many times, and therefore there is an ethical responsibility to have a working awareness of how the criminal justice system can enter the therapeutic space.

I was a guest on the Stephanie Hirst Show on BBC Radio Leeds about this recently, and was glad to raise awareness of this problem at a time when more survivors than ever are coming forward to speak out.

The current guidelines were written in consultation with therapeutic practitioners, which is a good start. Jeopardising this is the guidelines being revised by a panel comprising of the CPS, the NHS, and some voluntary organisations – the specifics of which are publicly unnamed. What is missing here is further consultation with Counsellors, Psychotherapists, and the organisational bodies that govern them.

Therefore, we welcome written submissions from such professionals who have used the guidelines to support survivors pre-trial. The steering group aim to submit a document with recommendations to the panel currently undertaking a review of the guidelines in the hope that we can influence the content to better reflect the genuine needs of the survivors we continue to work with, as well as to improve the training provided to all professionals involved.

Written submissions can be sent to:

Erene – erene@therapy-leeds.co.uk 

Tayba – t.a.azim@hotmail.co.uk


Dorothy – dorothy@findperspectives.co.uk

Erene Hadjiioannou is a qualified Integrative Psychotherapist with a qualification in Integrative Psychodynamic Counselling. She has been seeing adult clients in a variety of services since 2010 to offer psychotherapy and counselling and is a member of the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP). Erene works primarily from a trauma-informed and relational perspective, often using an embodied approach to talking therapy.

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