Saturday 20 April 2019 08:00:49 AM

Conference Looks at Impact of Sex Abuse
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The NSPCC and the Northern Ireland branch of the National Organisation for the Treatment of Abusers (NOTA) organised a conference on the impact of sexual abuse with over 100 delegates from across Ireland attending.

The delegates heard survivors describe the damaging impact that sexual abuse has had on them and their families. Delegates then had the opportunity to explore current and future services to support survivors in their journey, while identifying the gaps in provision and some of the potential barriers to recovery.

The Northern Ireland branch of the National Organisation for the Treatment of Abusers (NOTA NI) has played an important role in the development of public policy here in Northern Ireland over the years.  Along with the Northern Ireland Office the local branch was central to the organisation of the Multi-agency conference in 1997 that led to the establishment of the Multi Agency Risk Assessment and Risk Management Arrangements (MASRAM) and later in the development of the Public Protection Arrangements Northern Ireland.  The branch has provided a range of training events and conferences here in Northern Ireland over the past ten years.  NOTA nationally produce the widely recognised Journal of Sexual Aggression. 

One of the conference organisers, Paul Stephenson from the NSPCC, said: “It is vitally important to hear from those who have experienced sexual abuse when considering the impact and gaps in our systems and procedures to respond to their needs. This conference enabled those from statutory and voluntary organisations to come together and listen directly to the voices of survivors and though round table discussions, consider what we can do within our agencies to improve how we as organisations and individuals respond.”

The survivors’ experiences were presented in a direct and moving way and delegates listened intently to their clear and detailed description of the long term and wide ranging impact on their lives and their families’ lives. Their accounts also challenged some of the past responses they had experienced from social care and criminal justice services.   The role of the creative arts in aiding recovery was highlighted by one survivor.

Two keynote speakers focused on resilience factors and how individuals can be supported towards recovery. Pam Hunter, Chief Executive of Nexus outlined the positive impact of counselling services and shared information about Nexus’s current service provision.

Marcella Leonard, coordinator of the Public Protection Arrangements, highlighted the resilience factors that have been identified by research .She stressed the importance for all agencies and professionals of sharing information and working in partnership to ensure the most cohesive service provision to enable and support recovery. She described how the protection of victims and potential victims was central to the risk assessment and risk management processes within the public protection arrangements.

The restorative approach, where a survivor choose to meet the offender and to describe to him the impact of his offence was illustrated through a DVD produced by Barnardos.

In welcoming the development of the regional Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) Dr. Olive Buckley, GP and Chair of the SARC Development Group highlighted the SARC as the future ‘one stop shop’ for those who have experienced sexual assault. This new facility is due to open at Antrim in April 2103.

Four short presentations were made from professionals within the criminal justice field.  Her Honour Judge Mc Reynolds examined the court procedures and special measures available to those taking sexual assault cases to court, while speakers on behalf of the Public Prosecution Service and PSNI provided an overview of their role and processes in preparing cases for prosecution.

Christine Hunter from the Probation Board’s Victim information Unit provided an overview of information and support services to victims and survivors. Christine also outlined a case example where a restorative approach had been helpful to the survivor. The Northern Ireland branch of the National Organisation for the Treatment of Abusers (NOTA NI) has played an important role in the development of public policy here in Northern Ireland over the years.

The Journal of Sexual Aggression provides up to date research in all aspects of sexual abuse prevention, risk assessment, treatment, supervision multi agency work and public protection. NOTA (NI) has a growing multi-disciplinary membership comprised of practitioners, managers and policy makers from the public, private and voluntary sectors. As a result, NOTA (NI) brings a wide variety of perspectives to interventions with sexual aggressors to prevent sexual abuse.