Equality & Diversity Issues affecting victims of Domestic Violence

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1 Equality & Diversity Issues affecting victims of Domestic Violence In Islington, from , there were 6856 domestic violence offences (out of 13,091 overall violent offences against women): 59% of victims were classed as White and 21% Black 35% of victims were between the ages of 20 and 29 Only 10 reports involved a same-sex intimate partner Only 40.2% of domestic violence is reported to the police Over the last 12 years, two women per week in England and Wales are killed by a partner or ex-partner Repeat victimisation is common, and 89% of those suffering 4 or more incidents are women The single most quoted reason for becoming homeless is domestic violence Around half of all rapes are committed by a current or former partner. Women face double the risk of domestic violence if there are children in the household 1

2 1 Recommendations 1.1 Several suggestions and actions have been put forward by the community groups and Equality and Diversity Working Group (E&D WG) in response to the identified barriers in preventing DV and supporting the survivors, including: A commitment to have a police officer dedicated to supporting the LGBT community in Islington; Supporting services to clearly publicise their acceptance of the LGBT community; Clear guidelines on the Housing Benefit rules need to be given to key workers in this area; Ensure that perpetrators of DV are held to account to the law and provided with assistance to change their abusive behaviour in order to prevent them from causing harm or violence in their current or future relationships; Improve co-operation and joint action between key partnership agencies so that responses to survivors and perpetrators of violence are safe and consistent; For service providers to acknowledge and accept community groups, and train workers so there is better cultural understanding; Promote advocacy among community groups who do not feel comfortable with authority and prefer peer support; Ensure that health visitors are aware of DV issues amongst the various equality strands; Improved links between safeguarding adults team and DV services re: older women and disabled women who are suffering DV; Improved advertising regarding the Sojourner project with refuge providers and community organisations; Service providers need to ask questions on LGBT issues as this will help them in providing better services; DV training to incorporate all cross-strand issues. 2 Introduction 2.1 This paper provides an overview of the key equality and diversity issues and barriers that affect victims of domestic violence (DV) which have been identified by members of the Equality & Diversity Working Group (E&D WG), made up of community groups, over the past year. These are intended to inform the Domestic Violence Partnership Team, address the aims of the Islington DV strategy, and suggest actions to counteract the highlighted issues and barriers. 2.2 Domestic violence, or domestic abuse, is a pattern of behaviour, characterised by the exercise of control by one person over another, within the context of an intimate or family relationship. It is manifested in a variety 2

3 of ways including, physical, sexual, emotional and financial abuse and enforced social isolation. Most commonly domestic violence is a combination of types of abuse. It tends to be ongoing, repeated and likely to escalate in severity. 2.3 Domestic violence is primarily a gender-based crime, consisting of violence by men against women in the overwhelming majority of cases. However, domestic violence occurs in same sex relationships and heterosexual men are also abused by their partners or other family members. Domestic violence severely impacts upon children and young people as witnesses to the abuse, denying them a safe and secure home life. Domestic violence is deeply rooted and widespread, affecting as many as one in nine households at any given time. It affects women, children and men from all social, geographic and cultural groups. People from every class, age, race and religion are abused, as are people with disabilities. 2.4 The government definition of domestic violence is as follows: Any incident of threatening behaviour, violence or abuse (psychological, physical, sexual, financial or emotional) between two adults who are or have been either intimate partners or family members, regardless of gender or sexuality. This includes issues of concern to black and minority (BME) communities such as so called honour killings 2.5 Islington is a diverse borough with many different people and communities who all have distinct needs. The E&D WG was established as a sub-group to the DVPT to ensure that all people in Islington affected by domestic violence, irrespective of age, gender, disability, ethnicity or race, religion or sexuality can access the support they need appropriately and fairly. This also applies to those that may face additional barriers including, but in no way limited to, no recourse to public funds (NRPF); mental health; age; sexual orientation; and gender. 2.6 The E&D WG was tasked with two key aims of the Islington Domestic Violence Strategy : Aim 4: Delivering Services to a Diverse Community Aim 5: Partnership Working (objectives 2, 5, 6, 7) 2.7 The E&D DV working group was provided with information from 20 different community organisations regarding issues with accessing services for BME women; women with NRPF; older women; men; lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender men and women; disabled men and women; gypsy and traveller communities; and female and trans street population (including, but not exclusively, sex workers, substance misuse and homeless women). 2.8 Since the development of the Equality and Diversity working group, the Council has moved from a Domestic Violence Strategy to a broader 3

4 Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy. The VAWG strategy will uphold the United Nations Declaration on Violence Against Women, which was first adopted by the UK Government in 1992 and reasserted in recent cross party violence against women and girls strategies as follows: any act of gender based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life. 2.9 The issues identified through the Equality and Diversity working group, although not conclusive, were able to identify a range of barriers faced by each equality strand. Broadly these fell into the three main categories of: gaps in service provision; physical access issues; and a lack of coordinated response. Several common barriers were highlighted including illiteracy, fear of discrimination and inadequate understanding, and a general lack of awareness of the help available. Key Equality Groups 3 Age 3.1 The group did not look at domestic violence for younger people as this area is covered through a separate working group. 3.2 It is often assumed that domestic violence is experienced mainly by younger women, and that older women's experiences can be put under the heading of "elder abuse". However, it was reported by both Imece and Solace Women s Aid that the majority of inter-personal abuse and neglect of older people was perpetrated by those living in the same households as their victims. This is supported by a study in 2007 conducted by Women s Aid. 3.3 Imece and Solace Women s Aid both found through working with older victims of domestic violence that perhaps having lived in an era where domestic violence was not seen as a crime, older women victims learnt to hide the abuse which has often been happening over decades. 3.4 Often it is not until the abuse comes to the attention of other professionals (care workers, in-house support staff) that the older woman acknowledges that she has been a victim of domestic abuse. As stated, older women who are victims of DV are often referred to safeguarding adult services and then they are dealt with as a vulnerable adult instead of as a victim of DV and this was seen as an issue with regard to ensuring that the older woman receives the appropriate level of support. 3.5 Solace Woman s Aid works closely with social workers in Adult Social Care and advises them of the legal remedies available as they are different for elder abuse and domestic violence. 4

5 3.6 Parents suffering abuse at the hands of their adult children may not want to take action because they perceive their children as vulnerable (this could be because of drug abuse, alcohol, mental health needs or learning difficulties). If action is taken, the police often have difficulties in removing the perpetrator, as due to their own vulnerabilities there are not as many options for them unless specialist services are easily identified. 3.7 Likewise, if the perpetrator is the elderly partner who has his own care needs, removing him from the family home is difficult and it is often the victim who is removed to safety. 4 Race 4.1 Often in BME and gypsy and traveller communities, abuse might not be reported for various reasons such as language and literacy barriers which has an impact on their level of knowledge, understanding and awareness about supports available and that domestic violence is a crime. Additionally there is a financial dependency and stigma attached to speaking out about the abuse within some communities. For instance, women from the gypsy and traveller community may not try to access services because they feel there is a lack of understanding of their community, fear of authority, and that they will face discrimination. 4.2 Language barriers can often lead to a power imbalance within the family and a reliance of women on their children who pick the language up more quickly (through school, friends etc ). Women s refuges and hostels have limited access for groups such as non-english speakers and women with NRPF 1. This is despite projects such as the Sojourner Project which provides support to men or women who are on a spousal visa fleeing domestic violence. 4.3 London Safeguarding procedures clearly state that children are not allowed to be used as interpreters, however there is evidence from services that Police and health centres are using children as interpreters. The Islington Safeguarding Children Board (ISCB) has provided child protection training for interpreters and DV training can also be offered to health providers and the Police. 4.4 There is an inequality when it comes to interpretation as, unlike sign language, language interpretation is required to be paid for by services and there are a lack of resources within community based organisations for hiring professional DV interpreters. 4.5 It is important to provide a range of support services to be available to enable women to seek and receive the support they require. Women in gypsy and traveller communities feel more comfortable with peer support or online forums rather than open services as they feel that there is too 1 No Recourse to Public Funds applies to women who are subject to immigration control, are on spousal visas and do not have the right to access benefits or housing support. 5

6 much exposure and risk for them. Service providers need to seek opportunities to ask questions about possible abuse if suspected among community groups. For instance, this could be approached through health visitors, nurses etc 5 Disability 5.1 There is a lack of research and knowledge regarding disabled men and women and domestic violence. There is a long history of disabled women not being included in DV statistics and this is similar to older women. 5.2 The National Strategy around Violence against Women and Girls makes little reference to disabled women and nothing on disabled men. Research initiated by Women s Aid highlights issues specifically affecting disabled women and shows the enormous barriers that they face in relation to DV. There has been no research in relation to disabled men. 5.3 Organisations supporting disabled people are not always adept at dealing with domestic violence as this is not their area of expertise. There are some examples of good practice such as the Stay Safe project. The Stay Safe project is picking up where other agencies have felt out of their depth because of a lack of training, and is currently providing advocacy and starting to work with existing local agencies to improve their practice. 5.4 Furthermore, the definition of domestic violence excludes Personal Assistants (PA s) who may be the perpetrators causing the abuse. Given the relationship between a Personal Assistant and a disabled man or woman, disability campaigners are arguing for PA s to be included within the definition. This would then enable the disabled person to receive support they need through domestic violence service providers. 5.5 When disabled victims of DV are referred to Social Services, like older women, they are referred to safeguarding teams. This leads to a Vulnerable Care plan being activated, which can result in the person ending in care. This is something many disabled people are frightened of and may cause the victim not to report the abuse. 5.6 Refuge layouts are often not compatible for wheelchair users, meaning those in wheelchairs have further to travel to find bed spaces, none of which are reserved for physically disabled people. There are also issues around the PA providing support at the refuge, this is compounded if said PA was the perpetrator and new carers are required. Furthermore, care plans are not often transferable to refuges and there is no system to put an emergency care package into place. 6 Religion and Belief 6.1 The issues concerning faith communities and BME communities are similar in many ways relating to the stigma attached to reporting the abuse and speaking out about it. For instance, in gypsy and traveller and refugee and migrant communities abuse might not be reported for 6

7 reasons such as the perception that problems should be resolved in the family or protecting family honour. 6.2 In Islington there is a program of work being undertaken targeting work on domestic violence and other honour based crimes within mosques and churches. 6.3 Additionally there are practical barriers in accessing support as many refuges do not have the capacity to deal with women with large families, such as those found in the gypsy and traveller communities. 7 Gender 7.1 There is a comparative lack of support and refuge space for male victims of DV, which also creates a further barrier for gay/bi/trans men in disclosing DV. The majority of men experiencing DV do not perceive themselves as victims, and the issue amongst male survivors is seen as complex, and providing support is a somewhat contentious issue. When challenged about their perception about being a victim by advice line workers, approximately 1/3 of the callers changed their view; thereby professionals working on disclosures from men need to look at incidents on a case by case basis to determine the context. 7.2 Whilst there are many existing refuges for women, trans women are not accepted in women s refuges, and those working on the streets as prostitutes have multiple barriers in accessing DV services. They are often pushed out of mainstream services dealing with female sex workers. 8 Sexual Orientation 8.1 LGBT issues are invisible in many BME organisations, and it is difficult for lesbians from BME communities to come out when seeking support. There are cultural issues around discussing sexuality, however, services need to ensure they are open to all and comply with Islington s Equality and Cohesion Charter. 8.2 The Domestic Abuse Project (DAP) is made up of 5 LGBT agencies who each provide support to LGBT victims of domestic violence. This helps to ensure that LGBT victims of DV to get the maximum amount of help and support required. 9 Poverty 9.1 Men or women with No Recourse to Public Funds are ineligible for welfare benefits including Housing Benefit and housing support. This places them in a very vulnerable situation as they have no recourse to flee to a safe environment and often remain in the abusive relationship due to a lack of options. The Sojourner Project was established to provide support to men or women on spousal visas who need to leave the relationship due to domestic violence. Sojourner will provide subsistence and 7

8 accommodation costs for the individual whilst their application under the DV Rule is processed by the UK Border Agency. Whilst the impact of this project has been significant nationally and helped to improve circumstances for hundreds of women, there are still many refuges who do not accept women with NRPF due to the insecurity of receiving financial support. 9.2 Many people who are homeless and suffer domestic violence do not report the abuse as DV services are often not flexible enough to deal with the complex needs of homeless clients. 9.3 There is little provision for women who might be considered a risk to others such as sex workers and street drinkers within mainstream refuge provision. Women street drinkers are extremely vulnerable as they are not taken seriously by any services or the police although they are often victims of sexual assault and repeatedly raped. 9.4 Street drinkers mostly access drop-in centres and Islington currently follows a harm reduction plus enforcement approach in dealing with this vulnerable group. A woman s group is being established at the Manna in St. Stephen s Church to create a safe place for these street women. 9.5 Organisations are reporting that single women are not identified as being a priority for public housing and so struggle to get accommodation, perpetuating their vulnerability. Housing is working closely with organisations to provide support to single women. In Islington, case law is being used to access priority need in housing applications - if a case is sent through the MARAC then HAC will deal with the case on a priority basis. Additionally Housing Aid provide outreach surgeries in many community venues, helping the organisations better understand housing processes but also helping Housing officers better understand cultural issues and concerns. 10 Conclusion 10.1 The findings of this working group will feed into the Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy. Although the focus of the new strategy is on violence against women and girls, it recognises that men are also victims of these serious violence crime types. Whilst acknowledging that women have a greater risk of repeat victimisation and serious injury, around 1 in 6 men experience domestic violence 2. It is therefore important to ensure appropriate service responses are in place to support male victims, as gender may be an additional barrier to seeking help. As evidenced above, other groups of people who experience additional barriers to seeking help include those from BME communities, disabled victims, elderly victims, the LGBT community, refugees and those with no recourse to public funds, those with complex needs and/or substance users and those under 18 years of age. We will continue to seek to 2 (British Crime Survey 2005/6) 8

9 ensure that services are able to meet individuals needs in a sensitive and consistent manner. This will be carried out in line with relevant legislation. 9

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