Supporting Others to Overcome Sexual Assault

24th of April, 2017

“It is an intense time to meet someone, but it’s immensely rewarding”

Since mid-2014 Aviva has been operating Canterbury’s Sexual Assault Support Service Canterbury (SASSC), in partnership with START. Like family violence, sexual violence is far too prevalent and the effects can be devastating and long-lasting.  

SASSC is a vital service that provides confidential and professional specialist support to women and men following either recent or historic sexual violence or abuse. Whilst paid staff provide this crucial service 9am – 5pm, Monday – Friday, sexual assault, like family violence, doesn’t keep office hours. During evenings and weekends it is a trusted, trained team of dedicated volunteers who provide SASSC.

Erin Helliwell is one of those volunteers. She started volunteering with SASSC when Aviva and START took over the service, formerly known as Safecare, in 2014. Erin was looking for volunteer work related to crisis and trauma that would be relevant to her studies in clinical psychology – SASSC certainly fitted that bill.

Erin commonly volunteers overnight on the weekend, during one of the service’s busier times. Ninety percent of her role involves being on-call on the 24-hour phone line, and accompanying people to the Cambridge Clinic for medical assessment following recent assaults. She also supports people to make Police statements.

“It is an intense time to meet someone” Erin says, “but it’s immensely rewarding. Police and doctors have their jobs to do, and we get in between and have a role that is really unique. We make the victim a cup of tea, hold their hand, and remind them they are not alone. The Police and doctors feed back how valuable that role is.”

Most of the callouts Erin attends are for acute, recent events, whilst phone support may be provided for more historical events; in those cases Erin will talk with people about what they have experienced, and refer them to Aviva’s SASSC counsellor for specialist support.

Supporting people through something so traumatic can be challenging, Erin admits. One of the hardest aspects is when there is family violence present alongside the sexual assault. “Seeing that fear for themselves in another human being is difficult; they may be scared that it will happen again. But the really positive part of the role is being able to soothe someone, and build a relationship with them when they need support – people are so grateful that you are giving them just what they need in that moment. The work pays off, even with a 2am call.”

Erin estimates that she has volunteered almost 2,000 hours of time on the SASSC support line since mid-2014. Along with other volunteers, staff and Board members, Erin and her SASSC peers contributed 4,041 hours to Aviva in the 2015–16 year; that is equivalent to almost two years of 40-hour working weeks.

Despite being a busy woman, Erin finds SASSC easy to work into her schedule. “”The roster is good to work with – the weekend shifts are broken into four-hour shifts so you don’t have to give up a whole chunk of your weekend. It’s not constant, and together we make it work.”

Last year SASSC supported 355 people to overcome the effects of sexual assault. Aviva is currently looking to recruit more volunteers; could you be one of those special people, like Erin?

Full training is provided, following which volunteers are given a buddy (an experienced volunteer) to accompany them on their first few call outs, or more if needed. If you’re interested in finding out more about how you too can be a unique supporter of others, please email [email protected] or call 0800 AVIVA NOW.