Mum whose daughter was abused helping others left picking up the pieces

Cath Pickles

Cath Pickles founded Restitute to help families of victims of serious violence or sexual crime in Norfolk and Suffolk - Credit: Nick Butcher

Discovering your daughter has been the victim of sexual abuse is one of the most heart-breaking situations a parent could ever face.

Having survived the trauma when her daughter Sarah disclosed that she had been abused, Cath Pickles was determined to help other families left picking up the pieces. 

She knew from experience that heartbroken relatives of serious violence or sexual crime victims in Norfolk and Suffolk were being left to struggle alone. 

Father and toddler daughter in therapist office during counselling assessment meeting.

Clients seen by Restitute have ranged from six years old to 85 - Credit: Getty Images

While primary victims might get referred to organisations like Fresh Start for children or adult victims to the Sue Lambert Trust, their loved ones were often left to deal with the aftermath with help or support.

‘The help we wished we’d had'

“There is not often that thought beyond the primary victim,” said Mrs Pickles, a former Great Yarmouth teacher and Waveney district councillor.

“Of course, they should be in everyone's first thoughts but there is never any thought about what happens next. 

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“But family members, parents, partners, siblings and other loved ones, are often left with decades of caring responsibilities and of their own trauma.

Cath Pickles

Cath Pickles struggled to get help and support after discovering her daughter had been the victim of sexual abuse - Credit: Nick Butcher

“This can happen to anyone. It is certainly not something you can plan for or would ever wish to plan for, but it can happen at any time and there is nothing easy about it. 

“It is the worst thing that is ever likely to happen to a family, but sometimes it is also the latest in a long line of things that have happened to families.”

Determined to do something about it, Mrs Pickles set up Restitute to create a service that would have been invaluable to her and husband Mike when caring for their daughter. 

Sarah Barrett, who waived her anonymity to support the launch of the group, disclosed to a school friend that she had been victim of serious sexual assault when she was a child. She subsequently struggled with issues including post-traumatic stress disorder. 

Trying to cope with the aftermath of this emotional trauma, Mrs Pickles quickly found that there was little support for families.

Restitute leaflet

Loved ones are often left to cope with the impacts of crimes on family members for decades - Credit: Restitute

The not-for-profit community interest company, whose name means to 'restore back to normal', aims to fill this gap and has grown rapidly since launched in November 2019.

It currently has more than 100 families on its books and has helped over 130 clients, ranging in age from six to 85.

Those it has helped have included youngsters who have witnessed a crime or being traumatised by offending within the family to people who have been cuckooed or those caring for victims whose lives have been changed forever. 

‘Shame, guilt and stigmatisation’ 

Four of Restitute's staff are former clients able to pass on first hand experiences.

“Everyone gets a one-to-one support worker for up to a year which means it's someone they get to know and trust because that can be a huge issue,” continued Mrs Pickles.

“One thing families face is the level of stigmatisation, guilt, shame and judgement from other people, assumptions made and questions like: where was the family, where was the mother?” 

Woman looking stressed

People can often feel overwhelmed by the pressures of coping with a family member having been the victim of serious crime - Credit: PA

The group’s staff offer third-party victims practical help around issues like housing, education, health and benefits but also respite support and activities to rebuild self-esteem.

She added: “It can be a real boost to people. It does so much more than just providing an escape, it brings people out of the shadows and into starting to feel that they are worth something and are valued by society.”

Families of survivors facing the daunting task of coping with the aftermath are referred to Restitute by the police, social services or other organisations, but a significant number seek help on their own. 

People can end up “completely overwhelmed” said Mrs Pickles but the group had seen really good outcomes to empower survivors’ families.

The organisation, launched very much as a one-person band from Mrs Pickles’ home, near Southwold, has expanded into something resembling a small business as people have increasingly seen the need for its work.

'Courage and determination'

Restitute has seen a 30pc rise in demand for its services as the pandemic saw an increase in ‘behind closed doors' crimes like domestic abuse. 

Healthwatch Norfolk recently carried out an evaluation of sexual abuse and assault support services in Norfolk and Waveney.

It recommended services should work to raise their profiles, work more closely together and explore ways in which services could be commissioned for longer periods.

Restitute materials

Restitute helps third-party victims - parents, partners, siblings and other loved ones - Credit: Restitute

Mrs Pickles said: “It’s absolutely exhausting but we have had really good outcomes. It has been extraordinary and it is something that makes me so proud of the work that our team is doing but also of the courage and determination of our clients.”

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