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Fresh Start - new beginnings has supported more than 900 sexually abused children since 2012

PUBLISHED: 07:30 21 September 2017 | UPDATED: 14:01 21 September 2017

The team at Fresh Start - new beginnings.  L-R David Hockley, Natalie Chapman, Louise Everett, Diana Porter, Brian Paternoster, Patsy Johnson-Cisse, Kayleigh Cook. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

The team at Fresh Start - new beginnings. L-R David Hockley, Natalie Chapman, Louise Everett, Diana Porter, Brian Paternoster, Patsy Johnson-Cisse, Kayleigh Cook. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

The founder of a charity that supports sexually abused children in Suffolk has given an insight into what it’s like working in this harrowing field as the organisation marks its fifth birthday.

Founder of Fresh Start - new beginnings, Diana Porter. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNFounder of Fresh Start - new beginnings, Diana Porter. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Diana Porter launched Fresh Start - new beginnings with the redundancy pay she took from her previous job because she saw a need for a dedicated service in the county for traumatised children.

The charity later expanded to Norfolk and north Essex and it has helped more than 900 survivors, half of whom were from the Ipswich and east Suffolk area.

However, funding challenges mean there are currently 50 children on the waiting list.

Of the cases handled by Fresh Start - new beginnings since 2012, just 18% have resulted in a conviction, while 51% did not make it court. One quarter are still under investigation, and 6% of suspects were found not guilty.

A mock-up of a court room for child victims to be talked through the process.  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNA mock-up of a court room for child victims to be talked through the process. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Mrs Porter said proceedings were often halted due to lack of solid evidence.

She added: “Children don’t make good witnesses. It’s not about it not happening, it’s about evidence. People are not abusing children in front of witnesses.

“Doctors can see the physical damage that has been done to the child but can see no proof of who has done the damage.

“These children feel no one is believing them but we are. There’s some very dangerous people out there who are getting away with it and go on to abuse other children.”

Founder Diana Porter and fundraising manager Patsy Johnson-Cisse.  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNFounder Diana Porter and fundraising manager Patsy Johnson-Cisse. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Mrs Porter wants to see juries replaced with trained experts in cases of child sexual abuse in order to bring more criminals to justice.

Speaking of the current process, Mrs Porter said: “You will have the alleged abuser turning up in court, standing in the witness box, being articulate and very plausible, then you will have a child who isn’t completely clear on dates, which is quite understandable they are children. That will put doubt in a jury’s mind whereas an expert will understand the effects of trauma on a child.”

If a case is under investigation, Mrs Porter said the charity was not able to fully support the child until it was concluded, which can take years.

She said: “These children are suffering flashbacks and nightmares and we can only give them very limited help in that time - that is very wrong.”

Detective Superintendent Eamonn Bridger. Picture: ARCHANTDetective Superintendent Eamonn Bridger. Picture: ARCHANT

Explaining the impact of sexual abuse on children, Mrs Porter said it left them feeling “blame, shame and guilt” and many would resort to self-harming or even suicide.

Fresh Start - new beginnings teaches survivors coping strategies and also works with their families.

The charity has given this newspaper an anonymous letter of thanks which it received from the mother of a girl who had been raped by an older boy she met on social media.

The mother reveals how her daughter kept it quiet for 18 months out of shame and turned to self-harm to cope.

Suffolk's Police and Crime Commissioner Tim Passmore. Picture: SIMON PARKERSuffolk's Police and Crime Commissioner Tim Passmore. Picture: SIMON PARKER

After failing to get the appropriate help from other services, the family were referred to Fresh Start - new beginnings, which gave the girl one-to-one therapy and then group sessions.

The mother writes: “Before the treatment started it was difficult for our daughter to see a future for herself. Our fear that we would lose the girl she had been forever was overwhelming.

“It’s taken time but Fresh Start – new beginnings have helped her to heal her scars both on the inside and on the outside. They gave us back our hope and our daughter. Thanks to them she is now a happy, healthy, independent and determined young woman. She is forging ahead with her career plans and is in a safe, loving relationship.”

Detective Superintendent Eamonn Bridger, of Suffolk Constabulary, said: “Investigations into reports of child sexual abuse are amongst the most challenging faced by investigators. They are often complex and require sensitive, diligent work to establish the circumstances of what has taken place whilst ensuring the immediate and long term safeguarding of the victim is the priority.

The charity has dealt with more than 900 referrals since its launch five years ago.  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNThe charity has dealt with more than 900 referrals since its launch five years ago. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

“As with any report of this nature we will always offer support throughout the investigation no matter when the offences took place.

“We understand the often devastating impact that these offences can have, especially on young victims as they have the most to lose as a result of abuse.”

Mr Bridger said it was never too late to report and urged anyone who had been abused to come forward, adding that police would do all they could to “identify, charge and bring those responsible before the courts”.

Suffolk’s Police and Crime Commissioner Tim Passmore has given the charity £157,000 in grants since 2015.

He said: “I have seen first-hand the fantastic work Fresh Start - new beginnings do to support children and young people who have been victims of sexual abuse.

“I personally found it really upsetting to visit Fresh Start – new beginnings and hear some of the tragic situations that young people have to survive.

“The support, encouragement and stability that Fresh Start – new beginnings provide is absolutely invaluable and I am delighted to be able to support this good work.”

To donate to the charity, see here.

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