Safe Spaces service launched for abuse survivors

A new service providing support for survivors of Church-related abuse is now up and running. Commissioned by the Catholic and Anglican Churches in England and Wales, Safe Spaces is operated by Victim Support, a national charity, and it was launched on 29 September.

The service, funded by the Churches, is run independently by Victim Support, one of the leading charities providing specialist support to survivors of abuse in England and Wales. It is a free and independent support service, offering a confidential, personal and safe space for anyone who has been abused through their relationship with either the Catholic Church or the Anglican Church in England and Wales.

In a statement, Victim Support said: ‘We work towards a world where people affected by crime or traumatic events get the support they need and respect they deserve. Safe Spaces comprises a team of support advocates who have undergone specialist training in supporting survivors of sexual violence and who have received additional specific training in how the Churches respond to abuse cases, the way in which faith and Church-related settings have been used to carry out abuse, and the particular issues affecting people who have had or still have, a relationship with the Church.’

Victim Support are based in Wakefield, West Yorkshire, and they provide a national service giving people remote support through a helpline, live chat service and website. Their Safe Spaces team can be contacted on the helpline and live chat service between Monday and Saturday from 10am-6pm. On Thursdays, the service is available from 12-8pm.

Explaining the nature of this support, Victim Support added: ‘Remote support is provided for as long as the survivor needs. This can be advocating for the survivor, giving them support, providing information – including information on Church and Police procedures – understanding individual needs and jointly working on individual support plans. If face-to-face support is also required, contact and referrals will be made with appropriate local organisations depending on need.’

The Safe Spaces service is available to anybody who feels they have experienced Church-related abuse of any form in England or Wales. By ‘Church-related’, this may include:

• Abuse by a church officer. A church officer is any person, ordained or lay, paid or voluntary, who holds a role in the Church.
• Abuse that is linked to participating in a Church-led activity or group. If someone lives outside of England and Wales, but suffered abuse by a church officer from the Catholic Church in England and Wales, Safe Space will endeavour to provide support. However, this may be limited owing to the support available outside of England and Wales.

Eligibility and referrals
The service is for people aged 18 or over, but the abuse can have happened at any time in the past. If support is required for someone younger, the support team will try to find appropriate local support. Survivors do not have to have reported the incident to the Church authorities or the Police in order to access support.

It not necessary to be a current active member of the Church in order to access support. This service is for people who have experienced any kind of abuse, which includes (but is not limited to) sexual violence, inappropriate sexual behaviour, physical abuse, financial abuse or exploitation, psychological abuse (including spiritual abuse), domestic abuse, coercive and controlling behaviour.

On the referrals process, the Safe Spaces team aim to reduce re-traumatisation at every stage of support and, as such, they will ask for details of the survivor, their personal circumstances, any related support needs, and the nature of the abuse. The purpose of requesting these extensive details is to reduce the requirement for the survivor to repeat their experience, and to ensure that they make safe and appropriate contact, matching each individual’s situation with the specific skill-sets of advocates whenever possible.

Anybody wishing to use the service will be asked to give their personal and contact details, including safe contact arrangements and language requirements. They will be asked also for details of the offence, including any current or anticipated Police or Church reporting, and for details of the offender, where known. In addition, any significant factors in the case which will affect support – for example, children in the household, concerns with regards to mental wellbeing, domestic abuse – should be made known to the support advocate.

Safe Spaces can receive referrals via the telephone, or by completing a pro-forma referral document. The security of the personal and sensitive data of survivors is vital and to this end, the team will only accept referrals shared via secure email. To make a referral using the pro-forma document please email safespaces@victimsupport.org.uk and you will be sent a link to create a secure Egress account. This allows you to communicate with Safe Spaces securely, in accordance with GDPR requirements. Safe Spaces will then forward a copy of the pro-forma, to be returned via Egress. The team will make contact within 48 hours of reviewing a referral (72 hours at weekends).

You can contact the Safe Spaces team using a variety of methods, according to the needs and preferences of survivors:
Telephone 0300 303 1056 (a voicemail facility is available outside of opening times)
Email safespaces@victimsupport.org.uk
LiveChat with the team, or access service information, at www.SafeSpacesEnglandandWales.org.uk