‘You’re worthy of support’ - Mum whose daughter was abused makes survivor’s group a success
- Credit: Nick Butcher
Discovering your daughter has been the victim of a violent sexual assault is one of the most heart-breaking situations a parent could ever face.
But today, having survived the trauma of a violent sexual assault on her daughter Sarah, Cath Pickles is rapidly growing a new Norfolk and Suffolk organisation to help other relatives of survivors - to stop similar crimes tearing other families apart.
The name of Mrs Pickles’ organisation, Restitute - which means “to restore” - has been carefully and deliberately chosen to empower survivors’ families with the “ambition that someone will be able to survive and come out of the other side”.
It is perhaps a theme that has run throughout the 50-year-old’s life.
Having qualified as a teacher and moving to Suffolk in 1998, she had an “awful year” where she was attacked by a pupil in Great Yarmouth and her marriage broke down.
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“Somehow I survived,” the former Waveney district councillor said. “And it just gives you a level of confidence that, whatever happens, if I can survive that I can survive anything.”
Mrs Pickles would need those skills of resilience in abundance when she faced another terrible time a decade later, when she was made redundant from a senior post at Suffolk County Council and a crisis struck at home.
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She said it had been clear for some time that “something fairly traumatic had happened” in her daughter Sarah’s life.
However, the truth did not come out until Sarah disclosed to school friends that she had been the victim of a violent sexual assault.
Sarah was later hospitalised with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after experiencing dissociative features, where the mind feels like it is disconnected from the body.
She has since gone on to become a leading mental health campaigner, becoming overall winner of the Stars of Norfolk and Waveney Awards and even sitting on Sir Keir Starmer’s Victims’ Panel, before he was Labour leader.
But Mrs Pickles said the stigmatisation third-party victims face is also a huge challenge.
“If someone has suffered a serious a significant crime, all the agencies are invested in doing their bit solving the crime or dealing with the perpetrator,” she said.
However, she added: “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.
“You’re not talking about people who will get over something in six months. It can be decades.”
She also quickly found that “there are some systems that really disadvantage third-party victims of crime” - such as fewer state benefits, for example - and added: “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.”
She therefore set up Restitute as a community interest company “to support the mums, dads, brothers, sisters, carers and children of people who have suffered serious violence or sexual crime”.
Her goal was not only to provide the crucial information and practical support, but also help with the more mundane odd jobs that need doing at home - whether it is organising skips so people can clear their houses and dog walkers so they can have some respite.
“Sometimes, giving someone a skip or buying them a new bed can do a huge amount for their own self-esteem,” said Mrs Pickles.
“Carers feel a huge amount of shame, guilt and blame that’s reflected on them by the people around them. They’re left holding a situation they somehow feel they deserve.
“That’s simply not true - and by providing a new bed, or skip, or changing a lightbulb, you’re saying to them: ‘You’re worthy of support.’
Restitute has grown rapidly since launched in November 2019, supporting 24 clients in its first year when it had only planned to help between six and 10.
The organisation launched very much as a one-person band from Mrs Pickles’ home, near Southwold, has expanded into a something resembling a small business - as people across Norfolk and Suffolk have increasingly seen the need for Restitute’s work.