‘Can you Hear Me?’ The Voice of the Service User

28th March 2018

‘Can you Hear Me?’ The Voice of the Service User

Gotelee was delighted to sponsor a landmark University of Suffolk conference earlier this month, which brought together police, education, health and legal experts to discuss how to better protect vulnerable people from harm.

The conference – ‘Can you hear me?’ The Voice of the Service User – took place at Trinity Park just outside Ipswich, and focused on how services affect the very people they are designed to help.

Our involvement was particularly salient given that one of the keynote speakers was Nazir Afzal OBE – the prosecutor who helped bring the Rochdale sex trafficking gang to justice. We have represented a number of clients who have been affected by the issues involved in the case.

Nazir won acclaim after courageously reopening the prosecution against a group of men who groomed up to 47 young girls in 2012. A series of mistakes by the authorities had led to the gang evading justice until he reversed a CPS decision taken two years earlier not to proceed.

His work helped secure the convictions of nine men who had abused girls as young as 13. The vulnerable victims, some of them runaways or in the care of social services, were targeted by the men and given the attention they craved before being plied with drink, raped and driven all over the north to have sex with other men.

The horrific story was dramatised in the BBC television three-part miniseries, Three Girls, broadcast last May.

Nazir, who was awarded an OBE in the Queen’s New Years Honours List in 2005, is also credited with work to tackle honour-based violence and forced marriage.

He addressed delegates on issues around child sexual exploitation and violence against women, explaining how services can be improved by taking the time to speak to the ordinary people who access them.

A move away from bureaucracy was vital, he said if users were to be at the heart of how services are delivered – as he said: “No ticked box ever saved anyone’s life.”

Nazir said the emphasis should instead be on listening more, using the example of gender bias in the accusations levelled at Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey – while women had been making allegations against film producer Weinstein for years, it took only three men to allege sexual assault against Hollywood star Spacey for him to be written out of his own television show. The prevalence of female victim-blaming had to stop, he argued.

Those comments led to Nazir sharing his experiences of the Rochdale case, where he discovered victims who had been an easy target – young, deprived and impressionable – who the CPS deemed to be not believable witnesses.

The issues discussed chimed loudly with our own work around supporting victims of sexual abuse – something we are passionate about.

Gotelee is partnered with Suffolk charity Survivors in Transition, which supports men and women who have experienced sexual abuse in childhood through a range of psycho-educational activities, including one to one and group therapy, counselling, advocacy, research and training to become empowered and improve self-esteem and resilience.

We are also a proud member of the Association of Child Abuse Lawyers and the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers. Our solicitors are experienced in dealing with victims sensitively, always appreciating the difficulties victims may have in discussing what has happened.

Our work involves securing compensation for those affected. While financial recompense will never undo the torment suffered, it can bring a sense of justice and a chance to move forward. James Davies, Partner and head of the personal injury team has a wealth of experience in representing clients who have cases involving abuse whether it is sexual abuse from institutions or elder abuse that may have occurred in residential care and nursing homes.

Last week’s conference – and Nazir’s powerful message of putting people at the heart of everything we do – provided a timely and powerful reminder as to just why that work is so crucial.

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