The healing starts here

    Comfy chairs, daffodils standing proudly in a vase, soft
    lighting and pastel soft furnishings all contribute to the safe and
    relaxing space created by Tyneside Rape Crisis Centre (TRCC). It is
    a haven for women who seek one-to-one counselling after sexual
    assault or sexual abuse. Boxes of tissues sitting on the sidetables
    hint at the sadness women carry into these rooms.

    TRCC’s counselling service helps women come to terms with what has
    happened and encourages them to take positive steps towards
    rebuilding their lives. Sue Howlett, counsellor and development
    worker, says, “One day a woman will smile or come in and say that
    she has booked a holiday – these are relatively small things but
    they mark a huge step forward.”

    Research shows that more than 90 per cent of people with a learning
    difficulty will be sexually abused. Often this manifests itself in
    depression, self-harm, eating disorders and challenging behaviour.
    Newcastle social services found that workers were working
    increasingly with women with learning difficulties who were
    displaying these behaviours. The work of staff in Newcastle social
    services’ HIV and sexual health services team confirmed the extent
    of sexual abuse or rape.

    The Learning Disability Pilot Scheme, winner of Community Care’s
    2004 learning difficulties award, was set up by TRCC and Newcastle
    social services after Jean Lovie, then team manager of the HIV and
    sexual health services team, contacted the centre about helping
    this group of women.

    The pilot set out to test how women with a learning difficulty
    might access a mainstream sexual assault or rape counselling
    service. It aimed to identify whether there were additional factors
    to be considered when commissioning and using such a service.

    Howlett says: “We didn’t set out to reinvent the wheel.” She says
    several months were spent researching “what was out there – what
    was already being done”. She found that few counsellors felt
    confident working with people with learning difficulties because of
    an assumption that specialist training was needed. She feels this
    is not the case. “It’s more about being creative in your work and
    working inclusively.”

    Newcastle social services assigned Joanne Danby as project worker,
    giving Howlett a point of call at the department. The pilot worked
    with six women. Each of them was offered six one-to-one counselling
    sessions as part of the pilot but they could continue to attend
    sessions after that.

    Howlett says: “The women involved in this pilot felt valued.” The
    counselling helped them to look at ways they could stop hurting
    themselves “because they had been hurt enough”.

    The pilot found that a mainstream service can be inclusive and
    women with a learning difficulty can successfully access and
    benefit from a mainstream counselling service with additional

    TRCC and Newcastle social services were delighted to win the award.
    Howlett says: “It was an honour to do the work, a pleasure to work
    with the women, and to win an award for doing it, is really

    The prize money will be used to provide more counselling hours for
    women with learning difficulties.

    • To receive a copy of the pilot report call TRCC on 0191 222

    The learning difficulties category was sponsored by:
    Craegmoor Healthcare

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