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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