Pearl has contributed a poem about missing the Arts with Hearts group during lockdown.
Arts With Hearts doesn’t ask: How, When, Where, Why???
Are you sure???
They say: “Come in, have tea,
Sit and watch, express yourself, feel free”.
No, I can’t crochet, even now,
But , no matter, I give myself, my time,
My laughter, I join in, I hear my sound,
Feel safe, feel part of life,
Not numb, feel I could be, even ME.
I’ve noticed colours, CLAY,
Solid, ever-changing stuff,
Smoothness, curves scored into rough.
Textured people in my life are
Tangled, woven, knitted, knotted,
I make solid shapes, smooth, reliant, true,
You might say, “But why, for who?”….
ME, of course,they’re mine , I did that!!
I made that sparkle shine, dull hue, loud voice of colour.
Prettiness trapped inside me
Pours out in liquid, fountain-free,
Art can SHOUT,
Can whisper fear,
Can cry in pain,
Can show : “I’M HERE!!!”.
“The poem is talking about how we say we’re “fine”, when people ask and don’t show how we really feel, for various reasons, and how important it is to find people (like at RSVP) who we can tell how we really feel“
Pearl is fine, Pearl is free
But Pearl is trapped
And Pearl is me.
You only see the one on show, really not the one you know.
Sawn in half each side divides,
Pearl is living in two lives.
Scythed in two by Virus rules, locked at home,
No fun in schools, no friends to play, out of Control,
My head is cut down to my soul.
Isolation ward is home, only help is down a phone,
No touch, no love, no shielding arm,
Alone and scared of any harm,
Rocking, starving,all those things self-abusive harming brings,
Making sense more than the lies, strategies and stingy eyes
From crying. Loss of self, loss of me, controlled, restricted, power-free.
I’m needing help from someone who sees past the mask
And guides me through to overcome the big deride,
My introverted “spoilt” child.
Yet out in life no-one can tell,
Pearl is happy, Pearl is well,
Pearl is fun, she makes you laugh,
But really Pearl is cut in half.
Have you had counselling at RSVP over the past year? Are you 18+? We are asking for feedback about our adult counselling service during the Covid-19 pandemic, to see how people used our service and what we can learn from this difficult time.
Your opinions and ideas can really help us to improve what we do.
We would like to invite you to take part in a focus group discussion with other counselling clients on:
Monday 7 June 2021 at 12.30pm-2.30pm
The focus group discussion will be run by Karen and Polly, independent researchers who will pull everyone’s comments together and report them back anonymously. There will be up to 10 people in the group and it will take place on Zoom. You will be sent a link to join by email or text.
We would really like to hear about your experience of counselling at RSVP during COVID19, to help us understand what worked well and what we could have done better.
Please contact Sarah Lafford at email@example.com to book your place.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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 email@example.com
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 firstname.lastname@example.org, or Rosie Campbell on email@example.com.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.