Celebration of independent domestic abuse advocacy programme

25th November 2015

The achievements of 175 people who have who have had the opportunity to gain a new qualification to support women at high risk of being seriously harmed by their partners will be celebrated today to mark the launch of a fortnight of activism against gender-based violence.

Practitioners who have taken the Independent Domestic Abuse Advocacy course will be attending an event hosted by the Scottish Government in Edinburgh. It marks the first day of 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence - an United Nations-led campaign which aims to galvanize action to end violence against women and girls around the world.

Justice Secretary Michael Matheson is among those who will address graduates of the joint training scheme run by ASSIST, SafeLives and Scottish Women’s Aid. It was launched in 2013, and is funded by the Scottish Government.

The course leads to a  Professional Development Award validated by the Scottish Qualifications Authority.

Independent Domestic Abuse Advocates, who work for agencies such as Women's Aid groups and advocacy groups like ASSIST, support women who are risk of serious harm or homicide to navigate the justice system and ensure they access appropriate services.

Their work includes the assessment of risk, safety planning and supporting those who experience abuse such as accompanying women to the police or housing departments, registering with a GP, enrolling children and young people at a new school and supporting them through legal action and the court system.

The seminar in Edinburgh will celebrate their achievements and to hear about what steps are being taken in the shared endeavour of agencies across Scotland to prevent and eradicate domestic abuse and all forms of violence against women.

Justice Secretary Michael Matheson said: “Domestic abuse is an appalling crime and I am delighted to be able to meet the graduates of this joint training course who are now well-equipped to support women at risk of serious harm from partners.

“We are committed to preventing and eradicating all forms of violence against women and girls and are investing record levels of funding to support this aim.

“I welcome the 16 Days of Action as an opportunity to reinforce our message that violence against women and girls will not be tolerated.”

Suzanne Jacob, Director of Programmes and Innovation at SafeLives said: “It is crucial for victims of domestic abuse that they receive tailored support from a trained professional who can work on their behalf. Victims need to engage with a number of agencies, and having one person who understands how to navigate this, as well as the emotions and challenges involved is invaluable. This course gives these professionals the toolbox of methods and approaches they need to do this - and we congratulate the graduates in their new qualification. We thank the Scottish Government and our partners for their continued support”.

Mhairi McGowan, Head of Service at ASSIST said: “The development of this qualification ensures that victims who are at the highest risk of serious harm receive a good and consistent service. It is important that every victim in Scotland has access to appropriately skilled staff, who can advocate on their behalf.

“It has been a privilege to help develop this course and the support of the Scottish Government, the SQA and other partner agencies has been integral to its success. I hope we can continue to develop the course and build the skills of the workforce in Scotland to better support all victims of abuse.”

Lydia Okroj, from Scottish Women’s Aid, said: “SWA is delighted to be one of the key partners involved in the development and delivery of the Professional Development Award in Domestic Abuse Advocacy.

“The training and qualification has been a great opportunity for Scotland to work towards standardisation of resources and responses to domestic abuse for practitioners who advocate on behalf of those at high risk of harm. We look forward to continuing to work in partnership with the Scottish Government and partners agencies to deliver the course across Scotland.”

“I don’t think I would have got through it without them”: Case study

Lucy (not her real name), is in her fifties and lives in Edinburgh. She was put in touch with an IDDA through the Edinburgh Domestic Abuse Court Support Service (EDDACS) - part of Edinburgh Women's Aid, after her abusive ex-partner starting harassing her. Her IDAA supported her through the court process, providing advice and support.

“I left my partner in August 2013 after 11 years together.

“After I left, he refused to accept it, he was continually harassing me and was at the door all the time, writing me letters, sending me texts and emails and even sending me flowers.

“He would be waiting in the morning when I left and following me to work, and leaving me messages on my phone all day.

“He was abusive in the things he was saying – he said everything was my fault.

“It sounds silly, but it has only been since I left that that I realised he was in complete control of me. He made all the plans, I never knew what I was doing until he told me. He decided everything.

“He took me by the throat once, but he never raised his hands. He would raise his voice and he was mentally controlling. It was awful, but it took me a long time to realise it was abuse. He emptied the bank account, so I have no money – My sister has been paying my bills. I can’t describe how awful it has been.

“Eventually, I called my doctor and he told me to go to the police. My ex-partner actually phoned me three times when the police were there. He was arrested and appeared in court, pleaded guilty, and  was given a three year non harassment order.

“It has been a complete nightmare, but my IDAA has been wonderful. I don’t think I would have got through it without them.

“She would phone me every day to check I was okay. They went to the court with me. The case kept being adjourned and they supported me with dealing with that, and explained what was happening.

“If there was anything I wasn’t sure of, in terms of the legal process, or speaking to the police, they would find out for me. They would speak to the Fiscal for me – anything I asked them to do, they would do. I wasn’t comfortable speaking to the police, so I always had someone with me when I spoke to them.

“They helped me with my safety – they gave me a personal alarm and told me that I had to keep reporting my ex-partner’s behaviour.

“They helped me understand what was happening in the legal system, because I just wasn’t in any emotional state to fully understand things myself. I was just crying all the time and trying to understand why my ex was doing all this to me.

“She still phones me now to check I am okay. They are just wonderful people that I didn’t know existed.  It was like having a really reliable, well informed friend who was there for me all the time.

“I still have very tearful days, but I have got my life back. I really just want other people who are in the same situation to know that the IDAA service is out there, and what they do, and for them to be recognised. They are there to help. They changed my life, and I never knew they existed. I would never have got through it without them”.

Ends

Notes to Editors

●  Scottish Women's Aid (“SWA”) is the lead organisation in Scotland working to end domestic abuse. We play a vital role in campaigning and lobbying for effective responses to domestic abuse. We provide advice, information, training and publications to our 37 member groups and to a wide variety of stakeholders. Our members are local Women’s Aid groups which provide specialist services, including safe refuge accommodation, information and support to women, children and young people.

●  SafeLives is a national charity dedicated to ending domestic abuse. Previously called Co-ordinated Action Against Domestic Abuse (Caada), we chose our new name because we’re here for one simple reason: to make sure all families are safe. Our experts find out what works to stop domestic abuse and then we do everything we can to make sure families everywhere benefit. We train domestic abuse professionals, support local services, improve what happens on the ground and use on our expertise and robust data to impact policy and decision-making at local and national level.

www.safelives.org.uk @safelives_

●  Established in 2004, ASSIST is a specialist domestic abuse advocacy and support service focussed on reducing risk and improving the safety of victims of domestic abuse. Its aim is to ensure that all victims of domestic abuse – women, children and men – are safe, informed and supported throughout their involvement with the criminal justice system. It does that through providing a high quality service tailored to individual needs and circumstances.

For all media enquiries, please contact Penny East on 07811 817769 or penny.east@safelives.org.uk