The charities AVA (Against Violence & Abuse) and Agenda, the alliance for Women and Girls at Risk jointly published an important piece of peer research by women with lived experience of surviving violence last week (31 January 2019). The research lays bare the challenges facing survivors of violence .
The report ‘Hand in Hand’ was co-produced by peer researchers for the National Commission on Domestic and Sexual Violence and Multiple Disadvantage.
The peer researchers were made up of 11 survivors of domestic and/or sexual abuse. The report is based on their interviews with women facing ‘multiple disadvantage’ – who have experienced violence and abuse, and continue to face issues like homelessness, mental ill-health and substance use.
It found most of the women, both peer researchers and interviewees, had experienced many forms of abuse throughout their life, which had wide-ranging effects.
While more than a third had a mental health diagnosis, all described experiencing symptoms of trauma. Thirty per cent used drugs to cope and a quarter had had involvement with social services in relation to their children.
Despite this, the report says, too many women struggled to get help, with services often failing to understand their needs.
The report is published just days after the government released its draft Domestic Abuse Bill, which included a range of measures to tackle violence.
“Our report paints a bleak picture for the most disadvantaged women – with too many falling through gaps due to service failures, cuts to support and ever-increasing thresholds for getting help,” says Chlo Winfield, one of the peer researchers.
“But despite everything women are resilient and many still try to engage with services. It is the services therefore that are ‘hard to reach’ or difficult to engage with, not the women themselves.
“We hope that as the Domestic Abuse Bill makes its way through Parliament some of the key findings of our report are taken into account,” she added.
The report argues for support services to be trauma-informed and for more staff with lived experience to be on the workforce.
Interviewees reported that having women with lived experience conducting the research for the report, rather than independent professionals, enabled them to feel heard, validated and more able to open up about their experiences.
The report prioritises giving the experiences of survivors of violence in their own words and makes for a very challenging read, particularly when women described knowing that they were experiencing abuse but believing that they had no choice other than to live with it.
The report calls for:
- More awareness raising and prevention work around abuse so that women and girls can recognise what they are experiencing as abuse
- More experts by lived experience involved in supporting women who understand what they have been through
- Multi-agency support so that women can access a range of services in one place
- Staff should be trained on understanding abuse and the impact of trauma
- The importance of empathy in building a trusting relationship between women and services
Peer researcher Amanda Hailes says:
Struggling with any disadvantage is really difficult. When those disadvantages are stacked upon each other it can be impossible to escape them. Changing perspectives and challenging stigma is vital in creating the empathy society needs to truly support vulnerable women.