Sexual Assault Article Series – Interview with one of our social workers

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09 Dec Sexual Assault Article Series – Interview with one of our social workers

This is the third article of our themed series on sexual assault. Today we’re interviewing one of the social workers working on the service.

I: Hello! Thanks for coming in today. I’m going to start off by asking you to kindly explain what the Care for Victims of Sexual Assault Service is and what its aims are.

SW: Initially, the aim of the service was to have a multidisciplinary team consisting of social workers, the police and medical professionals, who would be on call when a sexual assault victim reports to the police or is admitted to MDH. It doesn’t really work that way, as currently the service only consists of social workers. However, we do work with other professionals, who are on duty, such as the police, the nurses of Obs 2, the on-call doctor, the gynaecologist.

The aim is to support the client and to advocate for the client as well, because sometimes they wouldn’t really be understanding what’s taking place or what is going to happen next, and they might also disagree with certain decisions. So my aim as a social worker would be to support the client at that specific moment, sometimes just by telling her* that it’s ok and being there with her. Sometimes the investigation might be difficult for them as the police would be asking them multiple questions which they might not remember, and it helps to have someone on their side at that particular moment.

We normally get the call that a victim has been admitted to hospital and we go to Mater Dei hospital. Sometimes you go to the Emergency, so you basically start from the beginning, but sometimes you go at Obs 2. So the victim would have already been through the process of the Emergency, already have given her* story, maybe already spoken to the police about her* situation…

I: So where do you decide where to go? Do they tell you when you get the call?

SW: When you receive the call they tell you to go to the Emergency Department, Obs. 2 etc. Sometimes we receive the call from the Vice Squad directly, sometimes we receive the call from Obs 2. We never receive the call from Emergency, or at least in my experience, I’ve never received a call directly from Emergency. I think when I did receive a call to go to Emergency, it was actually Krista (Care for Victims of Sexual Assault Service Coordinator) who informed me. And then you go there and you sort of try to understand what the situation is. So sometimes it would be difficult for the victim to start all over again, to tell you what’s happening. So I normally tell them to brief me, and that I don’t need all the details. That way I can understand what took place, but at least they don’t have to repeat everything. And then I would accompany the client to the Gynae, to the Examination Room. During examinations, they have their privacy, as the curtains are closed and we wait outside. If the police are interrogating her* about the situation, and they allow us to be present – which is normally the case – we stay with the client.

I: You’re not always allowed?

SW: It depends on who the court expert is, as there has been a particular court expert who in the past hasn’t allowed social workers to sit through the process with the client.  In that case what I normally do is explain to the victim what has already taken place, and what will happen next. I also explain to them how our service can support them. I would also advocate for the client and speak directly to the police, so as to understand how they plan on proceeding. Ideally I’d accompany the victim through every stage of the process, and would be there from the beginning, so that I can explain to them step by step what will happen. The police are there to investigate and the doctors to examine them, whereas our role is to support them and help them through the process. Thus, it is much better for us to be there from the start. I have noticed that many professionals adopt a very judgmental attitude towards the victim. The victims are often very well aware of this, and it helps them to have someone on their side.

I: How long have you been working on the service?

SW: I’ve been working on the service since December 2014.

I: Ok so for a couple of years now. And have you noticed in the time that you’ve been working for this service, any patterns, any similarities between and among cases?

SW: Unfortunately, yes. It’s obviously women, younger generation…

I: Younger generation meaning?

SW: Mostly 20’s, early 20’s, and mostly foreigners… To be honest, I don’t know the numbers, but I’ve had quite a number of cases, and out of all, I’ve only had three Maltese victims.

I: Social workers are on call 24/7, right?

SW: Yes, it’s 24/7. It’s 8 a.m. until 8 a.m. the next day.

I: And how many other social workers are there on the service?
SW: We are five social workers. And when I speak to my colleagues, most of them had mostly foreigners as well, unfortunately, who would be in Malta for a short period of time to study or work. I’ve noticed also that during the summertime it’s very busy, and this year, in particular it was extremely busy. I’ve had on a particular night, two cases, where I was going home from one case and they called me again and told me ‘Listen, you have to come back, there’s another case’. So this was in the same night. Normally, there is alcohol involved and the victim more often than not has a black-out, so they won’t really know what’s going on. Victims insist that something was put in their drinks, I’ve seen many cases like this. And unfortunately, as doctors have explained to me, there isn’t any test which can test for such drug…So, whoever does this, knows very well that it cannot be tested and can get away with it.

I: And concerning the perpetrators… is it mostly people they know or strangers?

SW: From my cases, they would know the person, but not well. There are cases when they don’t know the person. I’ve had one where it was an ex-boyfriend, but this was a Maltese case… mostly they would know the person. Not too well though, so a friend of a friend, they could be studying at the same school…

I: What about differences? Have you seen any across cases? New developments? Has it just been that cases have increased, or is there anything else?

SW: The cases have increased in general. As regards the service, I don’t know if it’s because I’ve been working for a year and a half now so I’ve become familiar with the other professionals, but I think we have improved our relationship with the Obs 2 team – the nurses are getting to know us, they even know us by name, if we need a room, they will provide it to us, no questions asked. Even with the doctors… some would be doctors which we have already worked with, and I noticed that they acknowledge us now. With regards to the police, it all depends on who the police officer is. I have been working as a social worker for 5 years now and through my work I have worked with different police officers from the Vice Squad, so it helps to already have a working relationship with them… it all depends on the character of the person you are dealing with, because as I told you, there’s a particular court expert who doesn’t want any social workers to be involved, but then you would find other professionals who would be very happy to involve us. But I do think it has improved from when I started.

I: What is the most challenging aspect of your work with this particular client group?

SW: I think the most challenging is being a woman, and you’re dealing with female victims. At the end of the day, you say, this could have been me. I think that’s the most challenging for me, because as I told you, the professionals are difficult, but you deal with them; the clients are normally cooperative, they’re just happy that there’s someone at least on their side and they’re too traumatized at that particular time. But being a woman and dealing with a case where you know that this could have easily been you, I think that’s the most challenging.

I: Have you witnessed any improvements in service provision since you started?

SW: I think it has improved a lot. I don’t think there were any services before… and now there is a lot, I think Victim Support offers a lot to these victims, the fact that you offer a lawyer, which we can ask to come at a particular time when we’re there with the victim. I think that it is a great service. The psychological services are great, and the fact that there’s no waiting list, so the client doesn’t have to wait… considering that we’re dealing with a traumatized person who has been through this difficult situation and you’re given them the service they need there and then, I think it’s very professional, it’s very good. I’m very proud to work on this service. And another thing which has changed, which is also very good, is that now we have leaflets that we can give to the victims, with information. Because at that particular time when you’re giving them the information, it’s not really sinking in. And I don’t think it’s the appropriate time as well, because, for example… It’s not the appropriate time to explain to the victim what they can do according to law… So the fact that we can give them leaflets with more information, which they can take with them at home and whenever they feel ready, they can read or go through, I think that’s very positive.

I: Maybe more cooperation from the professionals could make it better?

SW: Definitely. Sometimes, I don’t know if they realize that we are literally there for the same aim. Yes, obviously, our work is different, but at the end of the day, we are there to help the client. The judgement that there is amongst the professionals who try to solve the case! When in reality it is not their role.

I: Have you seen any improvements in terms of general societal approach towards victims of sexual assault and rape?

SW: I think there’s more awareness, so the fact that there’s more awareness…

I: More awareness that sexual assault and rape happen?

SW: That rape actually happens, the type of help that you can receive…I think that helps society to look at it differently, but still, I don’t think there have been a lot of improvements, honestly. I think that the general public’s approach can still be very negative and judgemental towards the victim. The general public still questions whether the victim did anything to provoke the assault. Such as for example that she might have given consent but later felt guilty about it, so decided to report. Even women need to be more aware and need to be more cautious. For example, before I used to work on the service, I would not think twice before parking my car in a secluded area…now I plan ahead! So as I said, there is more awareness, but there needs to be more.

I: What do you consider to be the most alarming outstanding issue in Malta when it comes to sexual assault and rape?

SW: I think the mentality, basically. In Malta you still have a situation where there is a woman walking down the street and she experiences catcalling, wolf-whistling, and this gets me frustrated, really. It’s 2016 and a woman can’t even walk down the street without being verbally assaulted. I also have female friends who say that even in entertainment establishments, there are some men who would still believe that they have the right to touch them without their permission. I think that the mentality needs to change and there needs to be more respect towards women.
I: Not just here…

SW: I think it’s something that needs to change everywhere.

I: Mmm. Do you have anything else that you’d like to add?

SW: No, that’s it.

I: Thanks for your time today!

 

*The interviewee uses the feminine ‘her’, because in the course of her work with this service, she has only dealt with female clients.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of Victim Support Malta.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*The interviewee uses the feminine ‘her’, because in the course of her work with this service, she has only dealt with female clients.

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