We’re delighted to welcome Oscar to our ISVA team, we all hope you enjoy being part of the RSVP team.
Identity has always been important to me. But the question of ‘who am I?’ has not always been one I’ve found easy to answer. This question consumed me when I was growing up. Sleepless nights and endless days staring into space and asking myself the question over and over. Labels were forced upon me before I started to speak for myself. ‘Tomboy’, ‘gifted’, ‘naughty’, ‘different’, ‘girl’. These labels always felt wrong to me. I wasn’t naughty, I just couldn’t focus like everyone else. I wasn’t ‘different’, but I was unique. I didn’t think I was a girl, so who was I? Who will I be when I grow up? Will I be comfortable in my own skin? Will I find a community of people who understand me? Will I be proud?
Throughout my teenage years, I tried on a lot of identities. My styles and interests constantly evolved and changed. I played semi-professional football, toured around playing in jazz bands and worked in the House of Commons. I tried a Goth phase for a couple of weeks, but I had blonde hair and smiled too much, so that style didn’t last too long. I experienced homelessness, I formed strong friendships and threw myself into schoolwork; a source of stability in my life.
The question of who I am continued to weigh on my mind, crushing me. All my friends began forming relationships, but questions about my sexuality made me feel isolated, alone. I started talking to people I could trust about how I was feeling and learnt that a big part of my identity was openness. My chosen family became a significant part of who I was, and who I still am. University was a very important and exciting time for me. It allowed me space to grow, meet a diverse range of people and try new experiences. I studied History and Politics and got heavily involved in student politics and social groups. In 2014, I was elected as LGBT+ Liberation Officer of my university and had the chance to support others in a way I was supported when I needed it the most. I also became involved in activism and advocacy support, particularly surrounding LGBT+ Liberation, Sex Worker Rights, and preventing homelessness.
For a long time, I became consumed with the label ‘victim’. I was a victim of sexual assaults, a victim of hate crimes, a victim of abuse. This became my identity and dictated how I acted. I felt embarrassed, ashamed, alone. I felt like no-one understood me or saw my struggles. It took time, patience and support for me to decide that I wanted to reject this identity of ‘victim’. A big part of my identity now is that I am a survivor, and what I have been through has made me stronger, more compassionate and surer of who I am and who I am not.
After I completed my Undergraduate Degree, I began a PhD in Political Science, looking at the overlap of disability and trans studies, entitled: The Other Body: A Trans and Disability Studies Critique of Privacy, Privilege and Power. I’ve worked as a Lecturer and as a Programme Facilitator at a charity which saw me travelling around the country and spending many nights in hotel rooms, eating takeaways. I would go into schools and help young people discover what social issues they were passionate about (such as climate change or supporting elderly communities) and helped them form plans of how they would make a difference in the world. These experiences helped shape my identity and learn more about who I am. I became a strong public speaker and I learnt about coping mechanisms for my anxiety and depression. I learnt about my disabilities and ways I could speak out about them and ask for support and I learnt how to better support people. I also learnt that you can get sick of takeaways and delicious greasy food if you eat too much of it (who knew??).
I love learning and reading. As I began forming a picture of my identity, I wanted to find stories like mine. I wanted to see an existence like mine, to feel validated and affirmed. But I struggled to find any. I couldn’t find stories about disabled young people or films about LGBT+ people (especially not stories of people who are proud and happy). No TV shows of survivors thriving. No diversity or celebration of difference. I realised I had to become the representation I wanted to see. I didn’t know entirely what story I wanted to tell, but I knew that I wanted to speak. I wanted to support people and make them feel seen; to help people understand that their stories, their experiences, their feelings are always important. This is why I continue to speak out. To fight for the rights of myself and others. To continue understanding, unlearning, remembering, forgetting, processing, thinking, feeling and listening. To be someone people can talk to. And I want to continue listening to myself. I speak out about my experiences in solidarity. To process. In the hope others can relate and feel less alone. These are some of the core values I want my identity to be about, and what I have strived to do in the past, and what I hope I continue to do in the future at RSVP.
I joined RSVP in October 2020 as an Adult Independent Sexual Violence Advocate. My role involves assisting anyone who has experienced sexual abuse or violence, helping them to understand their options, ensuring they can access the services and support they need, including reporting if this is something they wish to do, and offering emotional and practical support. Since joining RSVP, I feel like my chosen family has grown. Everyone is so supportive, welcoming and accepting, and it has felt powerful and affirming to openly be my authentic self and stay true to my identity.
So, who am I? The answer to this question is forever evolving and growing. I am my experiences, my journey and my story. I am Oscar. I am a trans, non-binary man. I am disabled, queer, and flamboyant. I love otters and bird-watching. My most listened to music genre on Spotify is ‘Show Tunes’. I tell terrible jokes. I am serious when I need to be, but don’t take life too seriously. I’m positive and energetic. I am flawed. I am kind. I am privileged. I am accepting of everyone. I’m passionate about my beliefs, my hobbies and about helping people. I’m also passionate about dogs. Dogs are great. I’m an activist. I am a survivor and I am strong. I am who I was in my past and who I will be in my future. Most of all, I am proud.
We want to make you aware of an opportunity to work as a co-researcher. A research team at University of Birmingham are inviting applications from individuals who identify as survivors of sexual violence to work on a national research study examining the role of the voluntary sector in supporting survivors.
This is a paid position, 2-3 days a month, with training provided, til August 2022.
The study is funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and led by a team at the University of Birmingham, working in partnership with survivors, voluntary sector services, health services and commissioners.
The role will include:
Offering knowledge and experience of the issues being researched
Co-facilitating interviews with survivors of sexual violence
Helping to recruit survivors to the study
Assisting in the development of research materials and tools
Assisting with data analysis
Attending some research meetings (these may be virtual)
Helping to develop publicity around the research
Helping to support/attend activities to promote the study findings
This is a great opportunity to influence policy and service provision and to develop your research skills and experience.
If you would like to know more about the research project, please contact the study’s lead: Professor Caroline Bradbury-Jones email@example.com
The PROSPER study: www.birmingham.ac.uk/research/applied-health/research/PROSPER-study.aspx
This poem from Pearl is about the impact of Covid on families and children.
I put my hands out, little boy
To dance together, act your play,
But: “What about the germs?” you say.
You child of four,
You precious one
No touch, no contact,
No more fun?
Reminding me who should know more-
Covid rules, Covid law.
What life is this?
Can’t dance my ‘son-
A person’s life barely begun-
Like this !!?
It must be wrong ?
What’s in your head?
What make you of this?
Masked adults, mustn’t kiss
We never had before like this,
Rules on rules
Locked inside out,
Timeless hours, screaming sirens, fallen flowers.
Trembling armies work to save
Children, finance, dying
Patients from their graves,
Screened by plastic PPE,
I feel so helpless,
We never knew, our lives were safe,
We held each other dear and far,
You saw my smile,
My joy in you, life on pause we’re living now,
I pray there’s time for us to see
A different future,
You and me.
This poem by Pearl reflects on the pandemic. Thank you for sharing your words with us Pearl.
No use of armies, bombs or guns,
Invisibly silent, with stealth
It comes, to choke the life from in our lungs.
No shield can stop its mad advance, its leading us a merry dance.
Risk factors out the chance that we will catch this vile bug,
Then pass it on to those we hug
And hold so close within our hearts.
‘Scopic warriors, spiked and deadly
Breeding in us
This is History in the making, if we survive this we are breaking
Worldwide chains of spread,
God knows we need this virus dead.
All ages, stages, Life on pause,
From young to old, direct or indirect, it changes paths of Life,
Cutting through us with its knife.
We must be fierce,
Like those before in other Wars,
Not let its march delete our species,
Wear masks to shield our weakest links,
Wash its bodies down our sinks.
Whatever’s done to us before,
We need our strength now even more,
We’re used to trauma, know the score,
Know what triggers are our flaw,
We have more than fear to mask
Surviving this now is our task.
We matter here, deserve to live,
We ALL have so much more to give.
Right now is History we can make,
How many of us it will take
I do not know,
But Inner Strength to follow rules
Will be our armour from this foe,
We must deplete it
Now, or go.
Over the past two years we’ve been working with the team at Merida to independently evaluate our counselling services for adults who have been subjected to sexual violence and abuse. In November 2019 we published the interim report, and now the final report is ready to share.
Counselling services are our busiest services. Though we offer more than 200 counselling sessions a week to adults, 7 days a week, survivors of abuse are having to wait months for their counselling to begin. This is part of a national crisis in the sector, but we want to reflect on what we can do locally as an organisation to reduce waiting times while still offering trauma-informed, survivor-centred support. You can read the report by clicking the link below.
Some of the findings:
Survivors face a confusing landscape when seeking support, as sexual assault referral centres, health services, mental health services and charities all offer different types of support with varying levels of accessibility.
In January 2019 the demand pressures on RSVP’s services had grown to such an extent that the waiting list for adult counselling was increasing rather than decreasing. This led to consultation on and implementation of service changes, including reducing the number of weeks of counselling from 24 to 16 (from April 2019).
In the research period, adult counselling at the city centre and outreach locations combined grew from 179 sessions per week to 227 per week ( this has since grown and with children’s counselling too we offer more than 300 sessions a week).
The expansion of outreach counselling has been successful in
extending the reach of the adult counselling service to people who were unable to access the city centre site.
Average waiting times reduced from 7 months to 5 months in January 2020, (though waiting times vary significantly depending on where the services is accessed).
The future of the service
Though huge progress has been made in reducing waiting times, the impact of Covid-19 will be felt for some time. Many people who were accessing the service in March put their sessions on hold because they were unable to, and did not want to, continue their sessions by phone during lockdown. When face to face services resume, social distancing will limit the numbers of clients who can be at the premises at one time and some outreach locations will open later than others.
We’re pleased that we’ll continue to work with Merida to evaluate the service, including the impact of Covid-19, counselling in a social distanced environment and new ways of accessing counselling (i.e. online platforms).
If you have any comments on the report, please contact Sarah Lafford firstname.lastname@example.org
The Red Project is a specialist service run by RSVP, providing practical and emotional support to female sex workers. Through the Red Project we largely support women working in venues and in ‘red light districts’. We know that a growing number of sex workers are working mainly or entirely online and we want to understand better how our service can meet the needs of online sex workers. If this is relevant to you, please see details below from Jane Pitcher and Rosie Campbell, who are independent researchers.
“We are independent researchers carrying out research on behalf of the Red Project to find out how they can better promote and improve their services to women working in the online sector. This research is funded by the Feminist Review Trust, which has approved the ethical statement for the study. The Trust has previously funded other projects related to sex work, including the Sex Worker’s Opera.
If you are a sex worker who advertises online (including working in escorting, webcamming, BDSM or fetish work, adult film or sexual massage), and if you work or have worked in Birmingham or Solihull, or live in the West Midlands and think you may have need of the services of the Red Project at any time, please help us and complete a short survey, which is anonymous and confidential here https://www.smartsurvey.co.uk/s/0FJDDS/. The survey should take you no more than 5 minutes to complete. The data from the survey will only be used to inform future services delivered by the Red Project, in order to ensure you are getting the services you need and want.
As a way of saying ‘thank you’ for participating in the survey, we are giving the option to take part in a prize draw, with a first prize of a Love2Shop online voucher worth £100 and 5 runner up prizes of vouchers worth £50 each. If you would like to take part in the prize draw, please leave your email address at the end of the survey. We will not link this to the data from the survey and will not keep it after the prize draw is completed. The data we receive from the survey is held on UK servers; we do not get information about your IP address or any other digital trace. If you have any questions about the survey, please contact Jane Pitcher on email@example.com, or Rosie Campbell on firstname.lastname@example.org.
We are also doing a small number of confidential telephone interviews, in addition to the survey. If you would like to take part in an interview, please email Rosie Campbell on email@example.com. The interviews will take approximately 30 minutes and a Love2Shop online voucher of £40 is offered to everyone who takes part in these.”
Pearl has written this amazing poem while in lockdown, reflecting on how the current situation has triggered a lot of memories and emotions.
I’m as small as I was-
No escape- because
I have to obey,
Nothing’s my way,
I’m out of control,
I’ve lost my role,
I’m spiralling down
Into the pit
Where the Demons sit
And laugh, so smug
at my innocent cries,
My infant ides
In shrouds of dust,
I know I must
Obey this ‘man’,
This Power, this sham.
I have no say,
No voice to speak,
No sound, too weak.
I must just breathe,
That’s all I can do,
I know if I breathe
It will carry me through
and back into sunlight, where I can be FREE,
Back to my adult self.
Back to be me.
I know I can beat this,
Can rise up and sing,
Its only a trigger
This ‘Lockdown’ thing.
BUT, I’m silent with fear, like a mouse scared to tread,
Frightened of surfaces, scared to be dead.
I feel unclean, unseen…..
Only on screen,
Storing up eye-strain,
Developing Blue brain,
Tapping my life out,
Snipping my hair-
That’s hard- to be fair.
Thank God for Wotsap,
Thank God I’m still
here to clap,
It’s silly I know,
The big fear is outside,
I’m safe in my house,
Being Virtual mouse,
But the Big Fear is in me,
inside my head,
It’s haunting and calling
Me down to be dead.
I have to not listen,
Not fall for their lies,
I have to keep going,
My Phoenix must rise.
P’raps I should learn this,
NOW may be the time,
My jailers are long dead,
The Demons are mine.
Today, instead of sitting with my therapist in person, I had my first session over the phone. I’d known for a while that it was likely we’d need to stop face to face sessions at some point, but I was anxious at the thought of it. I was worried that there would be long, embarrassing pauses, or we’d talk over each other, or I’d get embarrassed and introduce the cat.
But mostly, I was worried that it wouldn’t be… enough, that it would be a poor substitute for seeing her in person and that I would lose the momentum I’d built up in sessions. I’m used to my therapist’s physical presence when we meet, to her calmness and the sense of safety I have when I’m with her. Would this be replicated in a phone call? Could it be?
Twenty minutes prior to the call, I showered and changed out of my social distancing casuals and into something smarter and less comfortable. I have absolutely no idea why I did this. It’s not as if my counsellor has ever enforced a dress code!
Then I sat downstairs, obsessively checking my mobile every few seconds to make sure that the battery really was full, and I hadn’t just imagined it. When she didn’t call the absolute second that we’d arranged, I convinced myself I’d got it all wrong, was a complete loser, nothing would ever go right… then the phone rang. And I jumped.
And: well, the first few minutes were a bit weird. I paced up and down the room whilst we chatted lightly about the week and I tried (for some reason) to imagine where she was sitting. Then, I sat down on the sofa and talked…
And talked. And it was fine, better than fine in fact. I probably said more in that call than I do when I’m sitting in front of her and I surprised myself by telling her about something I’d been wanting to for a while, but hadn’t been able to find the words.
I’m pleased to report too, that her skills in person were replicated, seemingly effortlessly. She knew when to let me be silent and when to gently push. At one point astonishing me by asking what was making me cry when I swear I wasn’t making a sound but just had tears in my eyes.
We’re doing it again next week and the one after and the one after that and so on until this crisis has passed. After which, I will return to seeing her in person. Until then, though- phone appointments are meaningful and supportive and, well… enough.
On 18th March 2020, we closed the doors of our RSVP office and outreach sites due to COVID-19, with all face to face sessions moving to telephone support.
We’re delighted to start welcoming you back to resume face to face support…
On Monday 31st August, we will be re-opening the doors of our Chelmsley Wood outreach site and resuming face to face support for some survivors.
On Monday 7th September, we will be re-opening the doors of our Birmingham City Centre office and Kings Heath Lions outreach site and resuming face to face support for some survivors.
Due to social distancing guidelines, it is with regret that we are unable to welcome back all survivors to resume face to face support. If you are being supported by an RSVP Counsellor or ISVA, they will be in touch with you to provide further details.
Recent changes in our approach surrounding COVID-19 have been made to reflect the most recent guidance and legislation issued by UK Government. Under current UK legislation, risk assessments are required to be carried out before re-opening workplaces. We feel it’s important that you have access to our risk assessments and are informed about the steps we’ve taken to ensure that our RSVP workplaces comply with current UK legislation and are COVID-19 secure.
RSVP may look and operate a little differently to what you remember but we are still here to support you. We’ve made adaptions to our city centre premises and outreach sites to protect you, our team and continue to play our part in reducing the spread of infection. The risk assessment measures are in place to protect everyone, whilst continuing to offer support in the best way we can, given current circumstances.
We hope these risk assessments reassure you of the steps we’ve taken to keep you safe and provide you with an idea of how RSVP will look whilst hygiene and social distancing measures are in place. Please find our risk assessments below:
Our other outreach sites remain closed. We’ll keep you updated as and when they re-open.
Please click below for information surrounding our COVID-19 Secure measures for children & young people.
We are unable to resume face to face social groups, coffee mornings and Arts with Hearts due to social distancing guidelines. However, some of our groups are taking place virtually. For more details, please get in touch by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
For our current Helpline opening hours, please visit our Helpline Support page.
Unfortunately, we don’t know how long these measures will be in place. Our risk assessments and associated measures remain under continuous review.
Regardless of whether you resume face to face support with us or continue with telephone support, we’re here for you.
Sending care and compassion,
The RSVP Team
We have been monitoring the health situation with Coronavirus carefully in order to protect your health, the health of our team and the health of people who visit us too. We have already been following public health and Government advice and been encouraging hand washing and the use of hand sanitiser to reduce the risk of infection.
Since the Government has moved to the next phase of advice we want to update you, as we want to play our part in reducing the spread of the virus and protecting the most vulnerable.
Due to the Coronavirus pandemic, we ask that anyone with symptoms, a new and persistent cough and/or a temperature/fever does not come to the RSVP office or into an outreach site. Please stay at home and wait until the symptoms have passed and self isolate.
Please click here and read this advice if you do need to self-isolate.
Support by telephone can be arranged and is available, please speak to the office to ask about this.
We will not count counselling sessions which have been missed due to Coronavirus, self-isolation or caring for children if schools shut down.
Also, if you have been into RSVP or an outreach site, and then have a positive diagnosis of Corona Virus, please inform us.
We hope this gives you some clear information and advice. We will continue to monitor the situation and do our best to look after your health while receiving RSVP services. Take good care.