In this blog I’m referring only to female victim-survivors of domestic abuse, because although it is a crime that can affect anyone, it disproportionately impacts women. 77% of domestic homicide victims killed by a partner, ex-partner or family member between 2017 and 2019 were female (ONS, 2020). This data shows why domestic abuse is recognised as a gender-based crime and often referred to as gender-based violence by local authorities, central government and the third sector. It also highlights the importance of specialist services to support victim-survivors and their children, including providing them with a Criminal Justice IDVA like myself.
When a victim-survivor feels ready to reach out for help and engage with the police, the process can feel daunting and overwhelming at first. A CJ IDVA can support her by discussing her rights in reporting the abuse to the police, accompanying her to the police station to provide a statement, and offering ongoing emotional and practical support during the investigation.
A victim-survivor might feel isolated at this point in her journey after leaving the perpetrator and surviving the abuse she experienced. She may fear repercussions from the perpetrator or his family members, too. Not knowing what will happen next can add further fear, stress and anxiety to her life. A victim-survivor might also be going through other drastic changes in her life, like having to flee her home and move to a safe place, as a single woman or a mother with her children.
“Communication can be a major barrier in the journey of a survivor”
Each victim-survivor’s journey towards freedom from domestic abuse is different. It’s important that local authorities and the criminal justice system recognise the impact the criminal justice process can have on a victim’s life. It’s also crucial that the victim-survivor receives support with a trauma-informed approach when she feels ready to reach out for help. The Criminal Justice IDVA can work together with her and professionals in the criminal justice system to offer that ongoing support. This includes managing risks to her safety and advocating on her behalf to local authorities as part of the overall coordinated community response within the criminal justice system.
Another barrier to justice during the investigation and prosecution of domestic abuse cases is the risk of the victim’s voice being ignored and the focus on her being lost, leaving her feeling unheard and unseen. There are critical points during the criminal investigation and court proceedings where a victim-survivor might be left wondering whether the perpetrator was arrested, what safety measures are in place, what the next step(s) will be and whether she’ll have to attend court to provide evidence.
Communication can be a major barrier in the journey of a survivor through the criminal justice system, but the Victim’s Code of Practice is designed to help overcome those challenges during the police investigation. This is where it’s important that we provide advocacy on the victim’s behalf to local authorities and work together in partnership with the third sector to ensure her safety.
“I’d like to see all female survivors of domestic abuse have the opportunity to take their agency back”
The Dedicated Domestic Abuse Court and Specialist Domestic Abuse Court set up at Westminster Magistrates Court are a key feature of the IMPACT project. They provide a unique opportunity to overcome the communication challenges in the criminal justice system, track and monitor domestic abuse cases that go through the Magistrates Court, and listen to the victim-survivor’s voice. Both the DDAC and SDAC are essential in facilitating the coordinated community response and the response of the criminal justice system to female survivors of domestic abuse. They ensure a victim-focused approach, which includes updating her on the progress of the case in order to effectively manage the risk posed by the perpetrator and safety-plan accordingly.
I’d like to see our work supporting women through the criminal justice system not only continue but also grow, with a focus on the victim always at the heart of it. I’d like to see all female survivors of domestic abuse have the opportunity to take their agency back and live a life free from violence. I also want the criminal justice system to provide a response that makes women feel heard and supported as part of a coordinated community response that helps deliver justice for victim-survivors of domestic abuse.