The Victorian Centres Against Sexual Assault: responding to victim/survivors with intellectual disability or complex communication needs
AuthorJenkins, Dagmar Anne
Document TypeMasters Research thesis
Access StatusOpen Access
© 2018 Dagmar Anne Jenkins
Rates of sexual assault experienced by people with intellectual disabilities and complex communication needs are considered to be higher than for others in the community. In addition, people with disabilities can experience many barriers when trying to access support services in the aftermath of sexual assault. In the state of Victoria, Australia, the Centres Against Sexual Assault (CASAs) are funded by government to provide crisis support, counselling and advocacy to victim/survivors of sexual assault. Little information is available to guide CASA counsellor/advocates on the most helpful approaches to assist people with intellectual disabilities or complex communication needs in their recovery after sexual assault. In this exploratory study, counsellor/advocates from the fifteen Victorian CASAs were invited to participate, with 83 workers (29.4% of the workforce) completing an online survey. A mixture of quantitative and qualitative data was collected. The types of interventions used by counsellor/advocates, goals for counselling and advocacy, therapeutic approaches and adaptations, and use of counselling resources were investigated. Barriers to access were also explored. Statistically significant differences in counsellor/advocates’ training, experience, and confidence emerged from the data in relation to service provision to people with complex communication needs in comparison with victim/survivors with an intellectual disability. In addition, participants with experience in working with both groups had provided a service to a larger number of people, used a broader range of interventions, and reported a greater number of goals to have been met than those who had worked only with people with intellectual disabilities. Counsellor/advocates infrequently used a range of counselling and advocacy resources, however those who had used them found them helpful and expressed greater confidence in working with people with complex communication needs. Factors in successful interventions were described by respondents, and included making adaptations, utilising the person’s support network, being client-centred, having a positive therapeutic relationship, and taking time. Adaptations and adjustments to counselling used by counsellor/advocates were explored, with the most commonly used found to be those most easily accessible in the workplace. Findings provide direction for the CASAs in the enhancement of service provision for people with intellectual disabilities and complex communication needs, alongside highlighting the existing practice wisdom within the sector. Key recommendations for the CASAs from this study include drawing on the existing knowledge of experienced workers within each service to support and mentor fellow counsellor/advocates, along with building flexibility into the service model, to allow for adaptations and adjustments such as more sessions, outreach sessions, and more preparation time. Furthermore, working collaboratively with people with disabilities, disability advocacy groups, and disability organisations is needed to increase referrals and develop worker knowledge across the sector.
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