‘You’re always fighting’: Relatives of violent crime victims struggling to cope
PUBLISHED: 06:40 21 November 2019 | UPDATED: 08:12 21 November 2019
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Heartbroken relatives of violent crime victims in Norfolk and Suffolk are being left to struggle alone to help survivors pick up the pieces, it has been warned.
Cath Pickles, who is now setting up an organisation to help third-party victims in Norfolk and Suffolk, has supported her daughter Sarah Barrett through post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that followed childhood sexual abuse.
While there was help - if at times imperfect - for Sarah, there was little support for Mrs Pickles to deal with the pain of what had happened or even explain the processes of the criminal investigation or mental health system.
Mrs Pickles, who lives near Southwold, was forced to learn much of that herself and effectively coordinate her own daughter's care, using her valuable experiences as a teacher and former Waveney district councillor to help her understand the system.
However she fears others may not be able to get to grips with the myriad of different public services, especially at a time of emotional trauma.
"If someone has suffered a serious a significant crime, all the agencies are invested in doing their bit solving the crime or dealing with perpetrator," she said.
"The person who ends up holding everything together is the third-party victim, who is trying to deal with all that while dealing with all their shock, horror and trauma and all the guilt and shame that goes with it.
"The demands carers are expected to cope with in those situations are huge and the number of different agencies that they have to be involved with are ridiculous.
"They have to deal with their own feelings about how it happened, why it happened and everything else.
"You're not talking about people who will get over something in six months. It can be decades."
As such she has set up Restitute, currently a community interest company "to support the mums, dads, brothers, sisters, carers and children of people who have suffered serious violence or sexual crime".
Restitute has already been commissioned by the Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust (NSFT) to give training to help it recognise the pressures on third-party victims.
But her ambition is for Restitute to become a fully-fledged charity which gives people all the practical support and essential information they need, effectively coordinating care as Mrs Pickles has done with her own daughter for 10 years.
"The ultimate aim is to provide crisis, one-to-one support on a longer-term basis to third-party victims to help them tackle some of the most momentous things they have to deal with," she said.
Her goal is to create a network of experts who can provide crucial information and practical support, whether it is complex information about a mental illness or something as simple as helping with odd jobs that need doing at home.
"Restitute are experts," she said.
"We know what needs to be done, what services work and the information people need every step of the way."
By picking the name Restitute, which means restore back to normal, she hopes to inspire people with the "ambition that someone will be able to survive and come out of the other side".
She added: "Of course you can never undo what's been done in terms of the crime and trauma associated with it, but you can help look after their physical and mental health.
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"The important thing is the need to help people be resilient - and the best way to build resilience in families is to support them to do the best job they can."
What happens when a relative is a victim of a serious violent or sexual crime?
Sarah Barrett was the victim of a serious sexual assault when she was a child.
However for many years, she felt unable to tell anyone what happened, only saying to her family: "I've got a secret I'm never going to tell you about."
Mrs Pickles said: "From that point, we knew there was something seriously wrong."
Naturally she and husband Mike Pickles began "analysing every single aspect of her life", trying to work out what had happened to Sarah.
Sarah eventually disclosed what had happened to a school friend in 2014 - but was bullied for doing so and began self-harming.
She was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and experienced dissociative features, where the body feels as though it is disconnected from the mind.
To make matters worse, when she was admitted to hospital it was in Southampton - six hours away from home.
Mrs Pickles quickly found that "there are some systems that really disadvantage third-party victims of crime".
For example whilst a parent could claim an allowance for caring for a child with a physical disability, often the only thing they can rely when supporting a victim of crime is carer's allowance.
"Anyone caring for a young person going from a child to adult will tell you nothing changes on their 20th birthday - except everything, because all the family tax benefits we were entitled to stopped."
Mrs Pickles described it as a situation where she was "permanently fighting", both to support Sarah but also against the judgements of society.
"All the time Sarah was very unwell, she was fighting for her life and we were fighting for her life," she said.
"It was day-to-day firefighting.
"The reality is that it ends up being the third-party victim of crime who ends up coordinating everything and who ends up having to become an expert in everything.
"Dealing with the stigmatisation that third-party victims face is a huge challenge.
"With crimes of a sexual nature, my experience has been that there's an assumption that the parent or carer must've been partly responsible, either through their actions or inaction.
"Society has to have someone to blame - and that's because people are scared it could happen to them, and they have to find a reason why it could never happen to them otherwise they just live in fear.
"The easiest person to blame is the third-party victim."
■ To find out more about Restitute or to help support third-party victims of crime, visit the Restitute website.
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