Throughout 2018 we carried out a series of consultation exercises with women survivors of domestic abuse and sexual violence to inform and shape our work going forward. This article gives a summary of what we did and our key learning points. We will be publishing a report coproduced with survivors in 2019 and will be continuing to support survivors to drive our work going forward based on its recommendations.
The aims of the consultation and our approach
Our aim was to understand how well our services meet the needs of women survivors of domestic abuse and sexual violence and how they can be improved. As part of this, we were particularly interested to understand how we could expand our services and increase our use of technology in the future to reach more women.
Specifically, our evaluation focused on the current delivery models and approach of our Family law and Criminal law legal advice services (which involve provision of a national helpline, legal guides, handbooks and resources on our website.)
It was paramount to us to engage meaningfully, safely and ethically with survivors to do this and gather learning that would not only inform our approach now but also lead to long term partnership working with survivors.
The women we worked with
We are extremely grateful to the women who worked with our team and cannot emphasis enough how much we learnt from these experts-by-experience.
We tried to work with as broad a range of women as possible. The women we worked with included:
- Women survivors who had used our services before
- Women survivors who had not used our services before
- BMER women
- Women in prisons
- Women with diverse ‘protected different characteristics’ (for example: race and ethnicity, age, religion or belief, sexual orientation, disability)
- Women with complex or multiple needs
- Women involved in survivor support groups
- Individual women not involved in survivor support groups
We are also grateful to the three other organisations who worked with us to enable this consultation to happen: a survivor group, an NGO working in prisons and an organisation that hosts a BMER women’s group.
The activities the consultation involved
We focused on establishing trust, ensuring safety and building relationships with the survivors we worked with in a manner that best suited their needs.
This included: working in small groups, one-to-one meetings (these were conducted by an external expert facilitator/survivor that they trusted), meeting several times with the same groups of women to build trust, travelling to meet the survivors for focus groups as well as inviting them to where we are based, meeting individuals with a facilitator present. Most contact was face-to-face but some survivors also provided written feedback. Some activities were structured but we also ensured space for a less structured approach to allow individuals to contribute fully.
The types of questions the evaluation sought to answer
These are some of the questions the evaluation sought to address and are indicative of the fuller set, which will be published in our final report.
Evaluating our Family and Criminal law advice models of support
- What is the overall impression of our service / organisation?
- How important is our women-led and women-focused model?
- How well does our organisation cater for all women, for example women from BMER backgrounds or women with complex or multiple needs?
- When women have contacted us, why they have contacted us specifically?
- What were the impact or benefits of contacting us longer term?
- Our advice line gets very busy and we are aware we cannot meet the high demand for our advice. Are there any suggestions on how we could improve on our current system?
- How useful are our online resources and website and how could they be improved?
- How clear is it to women what help they can get from us from the way we describe our services on our website?
- Are there any interactive online tools that survivors would find helpful for us to introduce?
- Does our sexual violence handbook reflect the survivor’s journey and the questions they have?
- How accessible are our short guides?
- Does the use of images improve the users experience of these?
Key learning points summary
The following are some of the key learning points we gained from the evaluation:
- Our ‘by and for’ women model is essential to trust and fundamental to the reason why women contact us
- Emphasising that we are independent and non-judgemental is important to gaining the trust of women who have not used our service before particularly in relation to addressing cultural barriers
Our advice line model:
- Our one-off intervention telephone advice model can have a lasting impact on assisting women to understand and make decisions about options then following a course of action with confidence
- Improving and speeding up their pathway to support: Even if we are unable due to our limited resources to provide follow-up casework, if we were able to supplement the advice we provide over the phone with short and targeted follow up, for example a letter confirming an aspect of the advice provided, this could make a huge difference in certain circumstances in moving them forward.
Our legal information handbooks are valued as highly accessible and useful but we could improve them by:
- Ensuring we include service users from the start when devising and creating them as this will ensure that they can influence the approach and therefore get the most out of the final product
- Exploring appropriate language tone and content further with service users when talking about the law. Women service users (who are not lawyers), including some with learning difficulties, told us that we should not adjust our language unnaturally to try to simplify the law for them as it is unnecessary.
- Women do not always want to access all the information about a legal process all at once as it can be overwhelming to them depending on where they are in terms of recovery or processing (this was in relation to our sexual violence handbook). They would like us to break down the same information to ‘bitesize chunks’ so they have more freedom to choose what information they view and more control over choosing their own pathway to obtaining information.
- Our website and written guides are a valuable resource both to women have accessed our advice line and those who have tried but cannot get through. We could add to them by including short explanatory videos on legal topics as this could ‘humanise’ the interaction with our materials. It was highlighted to us that ‘hearing the human voice’ of another woman could be very reassuring to a woman seeking advice when navigating our website, especially if she had been unable to get through on our advice line that day to speak to someone.
Experience of the process of the consultation:
- Women felt listened to and empowered by being asked to be involved in our work. Many also expressed what a contrast it was in comparison to their many negative experiences of navigating legal processes and legal system generally to now be treated as an expert whose opinion mattered. Feedback included:
‘We discovered that nothing can compare to the dynamic of women meeting face to face in a safe space and on equal terms’
‘A sense of turning the negative energy of the abuse suffered into something that could bring about change’