Gaia’s family calls for much more help and support for sexual abuse survivors

Teenager Gaia Pope-Sutherland has been described by her family as a “beloved daughter, sister and friend” as they spoke out for need of survivors of sexual abuse to get much more help and support.

The 19-year-old (pictured), who suffered from severe epilepsy, was found dead 11 days after she ran away from home in Swanage, Dorset, in November 2017 while suffering a mental health crisis.

Speaking after a jury returned a narrative conclusion into her death, cousin Marienna Pope-Weidemann said the whole family was very proud of the 19-year-old.

“Gaia was many things. A beloved daughter, sister and friend,” she said.

“Bright, brave, kind, creative and fiercely loyal to those she loved. She was funny and insightful, passionate and principled. We have always been and will always be very proud of her.”

Miss Pope-Weidemann said her cousin had been “badly failed by the state” after she reported being raped aged 16.

“There has been a lot of talk about the complexity of Gaia’s case, the complexity of her needs but the truth is Gaia’s needs were not that complicated,” she said.

“They were basic. She needed to be treated with kindness, respect and dignity. She needed professionals to take the time to listen to her and her family and each other.

“She needed trauma-informed support and advocacy as she pursued justice and tried to rebuild her life after rape. She needed to be protected and she needed to be heard.

“This is not much to ask for and if she had received it, we believe she would be alive today.”

The inquest heard Miss Pope-Sutherland had previously been sectioned under the Mental Health Act and her health was worsening in the weeks before she died.

“Gaia died two years after reporting the rape and despite repeated mental health crises and hospitalisations, in that time she spent less than 30 days under the care of community mental health services,” Miss Pope-Weidemann said.

“She deserved better. All of us do. And in failing Gaia they failed more than just our family, because this now a world without Gaia in it and that makes it a darker place.

“We miss her every minute and there can be no justice for a loss like this but we know how proud Gaia would be of what we have achieved here.

“We hope that this leads to real change not just in Dorset but throughout the country, and will save future lives.

“What we do demand, is justice for those left behind – the one in four women and girls subjected to sexual violence and the seven in 10 young people who need mental health support and are not getting it.

“The countless families in this country breaking under the weight of the impossible task of filling in for public services trashed by a negligent government.

“All the lives not yet lost, precious and worth fighting for. If it takes a lifetime, it will be a lifetime well spent because Gaia is worth that and so are all of you.”

In a statement, Faisil Sethi, chief medical officer at Dorset HealthCare, said: “We would like to express our deepest sympathy to Gaia’s family and friends over their loss.

“While we stand by the clinical assessments made, we acknowledge and have publicly accepted in court that we could have done more to help support Gaia’s care following her assessment in October 2017.

“We also acknowledge that more should have been done to make sure Gaia felt safe when she was in our care and that her concerns were taken seriously.

“We have put in place measures to address these issues and ensure our staff are fully aware of their responsibilities.

“We are committed to learning from incidents and inquests and will consider the jury’s and coroner’s findings carefully in order to determine whether additional changes to practices are required.

“No-one wants anything like this to happen again.”

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