Dr. Sarah Heke
Big Shifts Are In Sight

EMILY JACOB

ReConnected Life

Sarah was Consultant Clinical Psychologist and Director of the Institute of Psychotrauma, the specialist complex and severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder service for East London Foundation NHS Trust for the past 8 years and has recently joined the new team at the Grenfell Health and Wellbeing Service.  She was also previously Lead Clinical Psychologist at the Haven Whitechapel, the specialist forensic medical service for people affected by rape and sexual assault and the HIV and sexual health service at Barts and the Royal London NHS Trust.  She has provided psychological therapy and specialist assessment to over 1000 women, men and young people including refugees and asylum seekers.

Sarah has been very actively involved in promoting psychological evidence and understanding the psychological impact of rape, sexual assault and child sexual abuse in the Criminal Justice System.  She is Chair of the Rape Reference Group for the Metropolitan Police Service, Secretary of the UK Psychological Trauma Society and Chair of the Royal College of Psychiatry Accreditation of Psychological Therapies Committee.

In my conversation with Sarah we focused a lot on the recommendations of the Elish Review which was commissioned in June 2014 to independently review all aspects of the Criminal Justice System, including the conviction rates and the experiences of victims. This was in response to the significant increase in reports of rape and sexual assault, including non-recent abuse following Operation Yewtree.  It made 46 recommendations, the implementation of which Sarah has been involved with working alongside senior CPS and the Metropolitan Police colleagues.

I was very heartened to hear of some of the changes that are coming as a result of the Elish Review, for example the provision of pre-trial therapy and the ability to introduce psychological evidence into trials: the acknowledgment that memory loss, and mixed-up timelines is normal, and acceptance that sexual trauma has a psychological impact. Expert testimony on the psychological impact of sexual trauma was in the past considered inadmissible, however now the precedent is beginning to be set for it to be allowed.

As Sarah noted, juries are comprised of the general public, and it comes down to how the jury perceives the victim, and how the evidence is presented, and their own preconceptions. So, changing the CJS outcomes is very challenging. For many victims it is physiologically impossible to say no, when they are under psychological threat. The focus needs to shift from rape being the responsibility of victims to say no, to understanding the more complex dynamics at play. ‘Freeze’ is the most common response immediately during rape and sexual assault, and the general public need to understand that.

There was a lot more we discussed, but I don’t want to give it all away before you read it!

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