Drama helps crisis centre

Broadchurch season 3 with Olivia Colman as DS Ellie Miller, David Tennant as DI Alec Hardy and Julie Hesmondhalgh as Trish. Copyright ITV Plc

A year on from the beginning of the end of Broadchurch and the Dorset Rape Crisis Support Centre continues to see the number of calls to its helpline and demand for its other specialist services rise.

The third and final season of the popular ITV crime drama, which featured several locations in West Bay and Bridport, was built around a rape investigation. Dorset Rape Crisis Support Centre (DRCSC) worked closely with Broadchurch writer Chris Chibnall and the programme-makers before and during filming; actress Julie Hesmondhalgh, who played the rape survivor, Trish, jumped at the chance to become the charity’s first patron.

Speaking to BBC Radio Solent at the live screening of the final episode in aid of DRCSC at the Electric Palace in Bridport, she said: ‘I was very relieved that I had given a voice – in my own small way in this big project – to the people who have been through [rape]. Now and again in your life you get to play these roles where, whether you like it or not, you’re representing a group of people who have been through something and you do have a responsibility to that. I’ve learnt so much from playing this part; I’ve learnt so much about the politics of rape and sexual assault, and I feel very proud to be part of increasing the profile of anybody who’s doing this incredible, important, essential work.’

In the six months immediately after the eight-part drama was broadcast, DRCSC recorded a 50 per cent increase in calls to its volunteer-operated helpline and further spikes in demand for its counsellors and services supporting children. The charity’s service manager, Helen Stevens, also notes anecdotally that there has been an increase in referrals from clients in West Dorset. ‘That’s not to say there’s a greater incidence of rape, just that the success of Broadchurch in raising awareness of sexual violence and removing the taboo that still surrounds it cannot be under-estimated,’ she says. ‘There is still a stigma attached to sexual violence and those whose lives have been affected by it can be reluctant to seek help, or worse, not even know what help is available or where to get it. A programme like Broadchurch, or the professional footballers that spoke out about the sexual abuse they suffered as youth players, can be vital in raising awareness of the help and support that is out there.

‘Sexual violence remains a social taboo and we need to do all we can to raise awareness of the issues surrounding sexual violence and the support that is available for those affected. We are becoming much more pro-active in raising awareness of our services and Broadchurch has been an important part of that. If just one survivor picks up the phone as a result of it, then it will have done a great service.’

The charity began 25 years ago as East Dorset Rape Crisis Helpline, run by female volunteers for women and girls who had been raped or sexually abused. In 2011 the charity received funding from the Ministry of Justice to help develop Dorset Rape Crisis Support Centre, the only rape crisis centre for Dorset supporting anyone living, working or studying in the county who has experienced any form of sexual violence at any time. The charity provides practical and emotional support through its teams of Independent Sexual Violence Advisors (ISVA) – the role of Beth Latimer (played by Jodie Whittaker, the incoming Doctor Who) in Broadchurch. In addition to the volunteers on the helpline, there is a team of volunteer counsellors who provide face-to-face therapeutic counselling and pre-trial therapy and other volunteers who help with admin, fundraising and events.

Collecting for Dorset Rape Crisis at Washingpool Farm in North Allington – a key set in the third season of Broadchurch

The range of client support encompasses everything from a one-off anonymous phone call or live web chat to counselling, workshops and on-going support. All services are free to the user at the point of contact and the charity works with other agencies to ensure clients are able to access help with wider issues such as housing, benefits, work or education.

‘Our youngest clients have been just four years old and our oldest in their eighties. We try to support all those affected by sexual violence. Sometimes for an older person it has been that they have never had the opportunity to speak about what happened to them. In our work with children who have been sexually abused, we provide additional support for their siblings and the wider family. A disclosure made by a child can have a devastating effect on the whole family. There is a wide range of very complex emotions that can surface and no two cases are ever the same. The effects of a case on the wider family are traumatic – if something happens to an eighteen-, nineteen- or twenty-year-old, they’re no longer children, but the way it impacts on parents is often as if they were still young children.’

DRCSC is completely independent of the police and the criminal justice system. There is no statutory requirement to report calls or anything its helpline’s listeners or counsellors are told unless it is a safeguarding issue regarding children and vulnerable adults. The charity provides support to those clients who choose to report and go through the court process and has established a very positive working relationship with Dorset Police.

However, it is clear that the majority of cases in which clients report incidents of sexual violence result in no further action being taken or not guilty verdicts. For example, in one three-month period, of the reports made by its clients, at least eighteen were not acted on and of the nine cases that did get to court, only five resulted in guilty verdicts.

However, the ISVA team continue to provide support and advice to clients whatever the outcome.

‘We wish it was more, but the criminal justice system requires people to remember specifics about incidents in order to prosecute and our minds don’t process and remember trauma in that way,’ explains Helen. ‘If a case can be made, a client still has to be cross-examined and that brings its own pressures, reliving the experience in court. In the end, it comes down to whose word the jury believes. It could be dispiriting, but we are a person-centred charity and we exist to make a difference in people’s lives and this brings a positive outlook to our work. A client said to me that we didn’t “save” her life, we “gave” her life and that is what counts, that’s what inspires people to get involved and help others. We have some clients who have come back as volunteers, which is great.’

At the moment the charity has counselling rooms at its headquarters in Poole and counselling hubs in Dorchester and Weymouth, but also plans to develop hubs in other areas throughout the county. The caseload is monitored carefully, as are its counsellors and volunteers, all of whom work under supervision, meeting regularly with senior staff and a qualified clinical external supervisor to ensure that work is within the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy ethical framework.

Julie Hesmondhalgh as Trish. Copyright ITV plc

All volunteers complete a training programme to expand their knowledge of the impact of sexual violence, the range of legal definitions and safeguarding practices, as well as developing the listening skills that enable them to offer emotional support. Beyond supporting the helpline and counselling services, there are other volunteering opportunities in events and fundraising and the charity is always glad to hear from potential trustees who are able to offer their skills once they have completed a training course which is obligatory for all volunteers.

‘Securing long-term funding is always a challenge,’ says Helen, who reports that the DRCSC collecting tin at Washingpool Farm Shop, which featured prominently in Broadchurch, continues to fill up more quickly than most. ‘We are constantly seeking new funding streams to help with our ongoing core costs of running the centre in Poole.

We would love to have the resources to be able to employ a specialist children’s counsellor to work alongside our children and young persons’ ISVA team.’
From 5 to 11 February, DRCSC participated in the National Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence Awareness Week, leading a campaign in and around Dorset with hashtag #ITSNOTOK, as it did last year with the support of AFC Bournemouth and Dorchester Town football clubs.

DRCSC Helpline 01202 308855
Anyone can call the helpline, which offers listening and signposting services as well as acting as a gateway where a survivor can request self-referral into counselling or ISVA services.
For more information on volunteering call 01202 308848 or email info@dorsetrapecrisis.org
To find out more about business sponsorship call 01202 308840.
To donate visit www.justgiving.com/dorsetrcsc
www.dorsetrapecrisis.org / info@dorsetrapecrisis.org

Further help:
www.napac.org.uk (National Association for People Abused in Childhood)
www.fpa.org.uk (for a GUM/Sexual Health Clinic)

• First published in Dorset Life – The Dorset Magazine.

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