Lack of representation risks undermining credibility of review of presumption of parental involvement

Leading women’s groups, including Rights of Women, have today written to Alex Chalk MP to raise concerns about the lack of diverse representation on the panel advising the review of the presumption of parental involvement.

The Ministry of Justice announced they would review the presumption of parental involvement on 9th November 2020. The review is the result of the Harm report published in June 2020 that found evidence that suggested the presumption can reinforce the pro-contact culture in the Family Court and recommended a review of the presumption to consider it’s impact.

Organisations concerned about the membership of the advisory panel to the review have written to the Minister to raise these concerns. in particular:

  • there is no continuity between the membership of the panel that prepared the Harm report and the panel informing the review despite the Harm report panel having already considered a significant amount of evidence on the issue.
  • there is no representation from domestic abuse/sexual violence support services, domestic abuse/sexual violence specialist lawyers or academics. Survivors from minoritised backgrounds, deaf and disabled mothers and those holding other protected characteristics are not directly represented despite the obvious need to include their voices and ensure their specific needs and experience of marginalisation are at the heart of the review.
  • there is no representation from a group representing the views of mothers despite them being significantly impacted by the outcome of the review.

The letter can be found here

WOMEN’S SEXUAL HARASSMENT ADVICE LINE DATA REVEALS ALMOST HALF OF ALL CALLERS SEXUALLY ASSAULTED IN THE WORKPLACE AND ‘SYSTEMICALLY DISCRIMINATED AGAINST’ BY EMPLOYERS

  • Women’s rights charity reveals data collected on advice line which exposes the severity of sexual harassment in the workplace faced by women, and how survivors are treated with ‘systemic sexism and discrimination’, and calls on the Government to act
  • Nearly 1 in 2 callers reported being sexually assaulted in the workplace. The recent reports of an MP being accused of and raping a staff member reflects reports to the advice line of what happens to women in the wider workforce too
  • Almost 2 in 3 callers experienced additional discrimination and retaliation from their employer after experiencing and/or reporting sexual harassment
  • Since announcing a package of commitments to tackle sexual harassment at work last year, the Government Equalities Office (GEO) has yet to respond to their consultation on sexual harassment. Rights of Women are calling on the Government to urgently prioritise making guidance on sexual harassment for employers statutory
  • Rights of Women is responding by doubling the advice line opening times

In August 2019, leading women’s legal rights charity, Rights of Women, launched the ‘Sexual Harassment at Work’ free, confidential, legal telephone advice line for women. The advice line was partially funded by actor and activist Emma Watson, as part of the TIME’S UP UK Justice and Equality Fund, managed by ROSA, the UK’s fund for women and girls.  

As the only service of its kind in England and Wales, Rights of Women’s women employment lawyers have given free legal advice to hundreds of women, who previously had nowhere else to access free specialist support for sexual harassment in the workplace. In the words of one caller, “you made me feel strong again.”

One year on, Rights of Women have taken hundreds of hours of calls and conducted in-depth interviews with survivors who have benefited from the service, which was set up in direct response to the #MeToo movement with support from TIME’S UP.

With the release of its inaugural data, Rights of Women can now reveal the scale of institutional sexism, patterns of abuse, and imbalance of power which impede women’s safety in the workplace and undermine their access to justice.

In the absence of any statistical data of this nature by the Government, these findings offer a unique insight into the realities of sexual harassment in the workplace faced by women.

These findings confirm that the current protections within the Equality Act 2010 are not robust enough to challenge the culture of sexual harassment at work, and a mandatory preventative duty for employers is needed to tackle the issue.

Rights of Women is calling on the Government to act by strengthening the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) ‘Sexual harassment at work technical guidance’ and making it statutory for all employers.

Rights of Women also urges the Government to publish its response to its ‘Sexual Harassment in the Workplace’ September 2019 consultation, which was due in spring of this year.

Data reveals Abuse of Power at Work:

  • Nearly half (44%) of callers reported sexual assault* in the workplace, this amounts to nearly 1 in 2 callers whose sexual harassment involved unwanted sexual touching amounting to criminal behaviour.
  • 2% of callers reported they had been raped and 3% reported they had experienced stalking by colleagues.
  • Nearly 2 out of 3 (59%) callers reported they had received less favourable treatment for rejecting or submitting to sexual harassment and/or victimisation for reporting sexual harassment to their employer. This means employers and harassers are inflicting further discrimination against women who have already been sexually harassed, by retaliating and punishing them. Women are right to fear the professional repercussions of being harassed, which so many of our callers tell us frightens them into silence and submission.
  • The most common forms of less favourable treatment and/or victimisation reported by callers as a result of the sexual harassment were:      
  • 31% faced a failure by their employer to properly investigate a report of sexual harassment;
    • 17% were subjected to bullying;  
    • 10% were threatened with or dismissed from the workplace; and
    • 9% were denieda job promotion or employment benefit.
  • 1 in 5 callers (22%) had been dismissed or resigned from their jobs as a direct result of the sexual harassment they experienced, showing how sexual harassment forces women out the workforce.
  • 45% had experienced multiple forms of harassment and discrimination. The most common additional form was racial harassment or discrimination (37%), which confirms a wider failure to address other and multiple forms of institutionalised intersectional oppression.
  • 67% had experienced multiple incidents of sexual harassment, confirming that most women experience sexual harassment on a continuous and sustained basis.
  • 15% had been signed of sick from work by a GP due to the stress, anxiety and other physical and mental health complications resulting from the harassment and discrimination. This shows sexual harassment has serious clinical and medical repercussions for the women affected that lead to exclusion from the workplace.
  • 9 weeks was the average length of time women had been signed off sick from work, which indicates a significant impact on their long-term health and wellbeing.

Rights of Women is responding to the crisis by doubling its advice line opening times from August 2020.

Lina, ‘Sexual Harassment at Work’ advice line service user, said:

“I felt I had no choice, he’s my boss, I didn’t want to lose my job. He didn’t ask if he could touch my breasts, he just did it. He didn’t like when I said no, he was hostile and became really aggressive. He spread malicious rumours about me at work, trying to ruin my reputation. I felt I was being punished for saying no and had to find a way to rescue the working relationship.

I’m a foreigner, as well, so I feel I have to work extra hard just to be included. He let people say racist things to me, without any consequence. I was called a criminal for the way I look; told I wasn’t British even though I have a passport.  

He denied everything, and when confronted with the texts he’d sent me he said we’d had a consensual relationship. There was no consensual relationship; he had tried to have sex with me and then punished me for saying no. He’s trying to sweep it under the rug.

I’ve developed social anxiety because of it and have been signed off sick from work. I don’t want to be asked for sex, and I don’t want to be racially discriminated against. I want, just like everybody else to come to work and be free of fear.”

Deeba Syed, Senior Legal Officer, Rights of Women, said:

One year on since the launch of our advice line, the statistics have confirmed our worst fears since the #MeToo revelations. We finally have a clearer picture of how women are experiencing systematic sexual abuse and discrimination in the workplace.   

Our data exposes the extent of the harm women are experiencing. We can no longer minimise the truth: victims of sexual harassment are systematically discriminated against. Women are disbelieved, discredited, and treated with hostility and suspicion. This is not just happening to women working in the Houses of Parliament, this is happening to women across the workforce.

Sexism is so deeply entrenched in our workplaces that women who do report sexual harassment and abuse are frequently labelled as emotional and over-sensitive by their employers. Worse still, our callers tell us they are treated as the problem. They are routinely dismissed, bullied, and blamed for the harassment. They are pushed out of their jobs, not the perpetrators.

Employers are neglecting their legal responsibility to prevent and protect women from sexual harassment in the workplace. It is clear the current legal framework for sexual harassment complaints is not fit-for-purpose and disadvantages women.

Next month marks one year since the GEO closed their ‘Consultation on Sexual Harassment in the Workplace’ and we are still waiting on the Government’s response and next steps which they pledged to release by spring. Earlier this year, the Equality and Human Rights Commission published technical guidance for sexual harassment, and we demand that this guidance is made statutory for all employers as an urgent priority.

If the promise of change after the #MeToo movement is to be more than just lip service, we need urgent legislative progress. Calls to our advice line show systemic discrimination with devastating impacts on women’s lives, yet basic legal protections have not been implemented.”

Dame Heather Rabbatts, Chair, TIME’S UP UK, said:

“We are living through a moment of collective realisation, where the stories of women who experience multiple oppressions are finally being heard, but the structural inequalities that allow discrimination to persist are still deeply embedded.  One survivor, who called Rights of Women, spoke of the racial discrimination she experienced from colleagues which was overlooked by her manager after she refused to sleep with him.

The Rights of Women ‘Sexual Harassment at Work’ advice line has shown to be vital in supporting women who would otherwise be abandoned, giving women the confidence to call it out, assert their legal rights and seek justice. Women will never achieve gender equality if we cannot work without having to fear harassment and discrimination, and for us at TIME’S UP UK, we are dedicated to achieving just that.” 

COVID AND JUSTICE FOR WOMEN: REPORT LAYS OUT MYRIAD ISSUES & CALLS FOR GOVERNMENT ATTENTION

Quality of police investigations, remote hearings, child contact proceedings, jury trial uncertainty, racism in justice systems – all  impacting women’s safety and access to justice

Covid placing additional pressure on protection systems that were already under extreme strain

Leading women’s groups have today (14 August) published a short report on the numerous new problems women are facing in the criminal and family justice systems due to Covid, and have called on the Government to show curiosity and leadership to alleviate these, alongside resourcing and measures to keep children safe.

The 29pp report by the End Violence Against Women Coalition, Imkaan, the Centre for Women’s Justice, Rape Crisis England & Wales and Rights of Women sets out the multiple new barriers to protection and justice that women are now facing when they are dealing with domestic and sexual violence, including:

Remote hearings in family court cases, which can be complex but are being conducted on conference call facilities with numerous participants and no thought to interpreters or childcare;

Deep worries about the reach and quality of criminal investigations during this period, which may lead to poor trial outcomes if and when the growing courts backlog is ever addressed;

Endemic racism in both systems confronting Black and minoritized women trying to keep themselves and their children safe; this is never addressed but sees women constantly exhorted to report abuse;

Abuse of child contact arrangements enabled by poor family courts practice;

Suspension of duties to protect vulnerable children which violate human rights;

Unclear decision-making on restraining orders;

Uncertainty about jury trials, an enormous courts backlog, and worries about ‘summary justice’.

End Violence Against Women Coalition Director Sarah Green said:

“What we set out today should set off alarm bells when considered by those charged with ensuring our justice systems are fit for purpose. More than ever Covid has created issues around participation, confidentiality and due process. Women already face criminal and family systems which discriminate against us. Covid has seriously exacerbated these and leaves us with deep worries about the ability to access basic needs on matters including child contact, restraining orders and criminal investigations.”

“In particular, Black and minoritized women’s actual experience of the criminal and family justice systems needs to be understood in terms of the ongoing, systemic racism therein. It is not acceptable to keep exhorting ‘all’ women to report abuse when such experiences are endemic. Policy makers and system leaders need to make a high priority of finding out about these women’s experiences and views, and implementing reform, which should include considerable workforce training. There should be public commitment to this at Cabinet level. The Prime Minister has commissioned a review on racism. What we have highlighted should feature prominently as everyday experiences which lead to very high harm.”

Rape Crisis England & Wales National Spokesperson Katie Russell says:

“Our report is clear that the family and criminal systems were already under extreme strain and have never worked well for women experiencing violence and especially for Black and minoritized women. If we don’t resolve to address and fix this now, before perhaps further public health restrictions, then will we ever?”

Rights of Women Director Estelle du Boulay says:

“What we are laying out in this report is urgent. What we need to see is strong leadership and resolve to improve women’s safety and access to justice from hereon. Women’s justice and protection needs must not be collateral damage in this Covid crisis. In particular the vulnerable children regulations should be annulled immediately and judges and advocates in family courts must show awareness of how isolation requirements can be abused during this health crisis.”

Harriet Wistrich, Director of Centre for Women’s Justice says:

“We cannot get to the end of this crisis, whenever that may be, and realise that we allowed the legal systems to fail women and children for want of preventative action. Women’s groups are monitoring women’s experiences and we have made clear what some of the most urgent issues are. We expect a response and we will take action to uphold women’s rights at every opportunity.”

The report sets out recommendations on Cabinet level leadership and intervention; recognition of systemic racism; resourcing; a more cautious approach to out of court disposals; ending the vulnerable children emergency regulations and legal aid.

The report is available to read here

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32 Women’s and Equality Organisations launch a ‘Manifesto for Women and Girls’

This general election offers an opportunity for all political parties to explicitly support equality for women. Women’s lives have changed significantly in the last 50 years but there is still lots of work to do.

Women’s and human rights organisations have joined forces to launch a ‘Manifesto for Women and Girls’ to empower voters to have conversations with political candidates about issues facing women and girls and transformative policies for gender equality.

The ‘Manifesto for Women and Girls’ builds on our collective experience to recommend how the next government can:

  1. End Violence Against Women and Girls
  2. Secure Equal Representation
  3. Promote Equality at Work and Home
  4. Invest in Public Services that Work for Women
  5. Lift Women and Children out of poverty.

You can view the Manifesto here

#GE2019WomenAndGirls

Sam Smethers, Chief Executive of the Fawcett Society said:
“The Fawcett Society is delighted to be part of this strong coalition of women’s organisations.  This general election falls between 100 years since women got the right to stand in parliament and 50 years since the landmark Equal Pay Act. Yet, when women go to the polls in December, the pay gap means they will already effectively have stopped being paid for the year. Meanwhile violence against women is increasing, women still undertake the majority of unpaid care and, basic rights to healthcare, safety and housing are out of reach for many migrant women.  At a time when women’s voices are being marginalised in politics, this election presents an opportunity for women to raise their voices in unison about the issues that are important to them, we hope that this manifesto will empower voters to have meaningful conversations with their candidates about improving women’s equality.

The ‘Manifesto for Women and Girls’ is supported by:

50:50 Parliament

Agenda

Care International UK

Centre for Women’s Justice

Equality Now

Girlguiding

Glitch

HerCentre

Imkaan

Latin American Women’s Aid

Latin American Women’s Rights Service

Maternity Action

National Alliance of Women’s Organisations

NIA

Rape Crisis England and Wales

Refuge

Rights of Women

Safe Lives

Sisters of Frida

Southall Black Sisters

Surviving Economic Abuse

The Centenary Action Group

The End Violence Against Women Coalition

The Fawcett Society

Welsh Women’s Aid

White Ribbon

Women in Prison

Women’s Budget Group

Women’s Resource Centre

Women’s Aid

Young Women’s Trust

Launch of our new Sexual Harassment at Work legal advice line for women

Rights of Women will today launch the only specialist free legal advice line for women in England and Wales experiencing sexual harassment at work. According to the TUC, as many as 1 in 2 of women have experienced sexual harassment at work.

The legal advice will be provided by Rights of Women legal staff and volunteer women employment lawyers through a dedicated telephone line. Women calling will be able to get specialist legal advice on what behaviour constitutes sexual harassment, how to bring a grievance against their employer, how to make a claim in the Employment Tribunal, settlement agreements and non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) and other related legal problems faced by women experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace.

The advice line is funded by the TIME’S UP UK Justice and Equality Fund, managed by Rosa, the UK Fund for Women and Girls, kickstarted by donations from British actor and activist Emma Watson and others.

The money for this fund was donated by the public after the scale of the problem of sexual harassment was revealed by the #MeToo movement, which saw millions of women across the globe share their stories of sexual harassment and sexual abuse.

Actor, activist and TIME’S UP UK catalyst Emma Watson says:

“I’m honestly delighted that the funds raised by the public through the Justice and Equality Fund, which TIME’S UP UK catalysed in collaboration with women’s organisations, is powering the only free, specialist legal advice line for women in England and Wales experiencing sexual harassment at work*.

However, it’s completely staggering to think that this is the only service of its type given that research has found that as many as one in two women experience sexual harassment in the workplace. It finally feels like people are realising the scale of the problem, and I’m certainly hopeful that with global standards such as the recent International Labour Organization treaty on harassment at work, we’ll start to see a new climate of prevention and accountability on this issue domestically.

Understanding what your rights are, how you can assert them, and the choices you have if you’ve experienced harassment, is such a vital part of creating safe workplaces for everyone, and this advice line is such a huge development in ensuring that all women are supported, wherever we work.”

* TUC’s 2016 survey ‘Still just a bit of banter?

Deeba Syed, Senior Legal Officer at Rights of Women says:

“The evidence shows that sexual harassment in the workplace is at epidemic levels. While sexual harassment is one of the most common forms of violence against women, it has remained a hidden issue with many women believing it was an inevitable part of their jobs or that it would jeopardise their careers to assert their legal rights.   

For too long there has been a gap in available legal advice in this area for those who need it most. Many women still do not have access to the right help and support they need to hold their employer and harasser to account. Our advice line will help plug that gap.

This advice line’s purpose is to empower women to exercise their legal rights in the workplace. By advising women about their legal options and increasing their understanding of equalities and discrimination law, we will be able to help them make informed choices about next steps including how to navigate the legal system with confidence.

We know that complaints of sexual harassment at work are still frequently responded to in a gendered manner that is negative, undermining or can lead to victimisation. That is why Rights of Women will also work towards dismantling the underlying structural problems that puts the burden on victims and makes it difficult for women to come forward through its policy work.”

Dame Heather Rabbatts, Chair, TIME’S UP UK says: 

“I am delighted that the independent selection panel for the TIME’S UP UK Justice and Equality Fund chose to fund Rights of Women’s free, specialist legal advice line. Many forms of sexual harassment are still prevalent across the UK workforce and women urgently need legal advice and information to understand and use their legal rights and remedies to find safety, justice and equality.

The government is consulting on the introduction of a duty to ensure employers are made legally responsible for following up sexual harassment reporting. TIME’S UP believes that this will ensure that workplace protections are in place and are enforceable.  Having begun my career as a volunteer at Rights of Women many years ago I know how valuable this service is for women seeking advice at such a vulnerable time”.

Seyi Newell, Project Director, Rosa, the UK Fund for Women and Girls, said:

The funding supporting this vital service was born of a desire to stamp out the culture of abuse and impunity around sexual harassment and abuse that has existed in our workplaces and communities for far too long.

By ensuring women have access to the right advice and support, we can create an empowered workforce where women have the confidence to call it out and employers recognise it and take action, so that together we make work and social spaces better for all of us.”

Proposed new domestic abuse injunctions regime fails to put ‘victims at the centre’

 

  • Joint Committee on the draft Domestic Abuse Bill recommends a thorough review of the protective measures currently available before going ahead with its proposals for Domestic Abuse Protection Orders (DAPOs)
  • Specialist charities Rights of Women and Respect share concerns that proposed scheme will be unworkable and will fail victims

Today’s publication of the report from the Joint Committee on the draft Domestic Abuse Bill raises important questions about the Government’s proposals to replace domestic violence protection orders (DVPOs) with DAPOs while leaving the existing injunction regime in place.

Both Rights of Women and Respect, who are leading charities that support survivors, provided evidence to the Committee that warned of the problems with the new DAPO scheme.

We are pleased the Committee has taken on board many of our concerns and has recommended a thorough review of the protective measures currently available before going ahead with these proposals.

Today we have published a briefing about the introduction of Domestic Abuse Protection Orders to set out clearly why, in their current form, they will not achieve the Government’s stated aim of providing additional protection for victims of domestic abuse. We agree with the Joint Committee that “the simple question which the draft Bill does not address is which organisation or organisations are to be responsible for the monitoring of positive requirements. Without this clarity, the provisions relating to this proposal may fail.”

We have made recommendations for improvements to be considered in any review based on the following key principles:

  • The voice of the victim is central to decisions about her protection.
  • IDVAs play a crucial role in advocating for victims and ensuring the appropriate support is in place.
  • Not all perpetrators are the same. What is an appropriate intervention for one may not be appropriate for someone else. Specialist assessment is necessary to ensure the right interventions are used.
  • Positive requirements should not be put in place without appropriate monitoring and reporting on the outcome of the work especially to the victim.
  • For interventions to be successful, the system must work effectively to ensure that the correct intervention is ordered, the intervention is of high quality and any action to address breaches is properly enforced.
  • IDVAs and specialist programmes must be properly resourced. 

Olive Craig, Senior Legal Officer at Rights of Women said today:

“The proposed new DAPO regime requires much more thought and resourcing to even begin to make it workable.  Domestic abuse injunctions play a critical role in providing protection for women against perpetrators. The cost of introducing a flawed scheme will be women’s safety; we urge the Government to rethink their approach.”

Jo Todd, CEO of Respect said today:

“Whilst we are pleased that the government is focusing on perpetrators, we are concerned that the proposed DAPO measures have not been sufficiently thought through and instead of protecting victims of domestic abuse might actually make things worse.  We hope to be able to work with the government and our partners in the sector to ensure that any scheme is safe, effective and accountable.”

Read the briefing here.

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Rights of Women’s new immigration advice service for EU citizens and their family members

We are pleased to announce that Rights of Women has received government funding until March 2020 to provide support to vulnerable EU citizens and their family members applying to the EU Settlement Scheme.

 

Background to the EU Settlement Scheme

 

The UK’s decision to leave the EU will affect the rights of residence of EU citizens and their family members living in the UK.

 

EU citizens and their family members must apply to the ‘EU Settlement Scheme’ to get the immigration status they need to continue living in the UK. The deadline to apply is 30 June 2021.

 

Further information about the EU Settlement Scheme is available here https://www.gov.uk/settled-status-eu-citizens-families.

 

How to get legal advice from us

 

Our telephone advice line provides legal advice and assistance to women who are vulnerable due to Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) to enable them to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme.

Our telephone advice line is staffed by women immigration solicitors or barristers who are qualified to give advice up to OISC Level 3.

We can advise on applying to the EU Settlement Scheme including helping you to understand:

  • what the EU Settlement Scheme is
  • what criteria you need to meet
  • how to make an application
  • what documents you will need to apply
  • what type of status you are eligible for

Here are the details you need to access our EU Settlement Scheme advice line:

 

 

Telephone number:

 

 

020 7118 0267

 

Calls will be charged at local rates. Please note that calls made outside the opening hours will not be answered but will still be charged when connecting to our voicemail service. Our voicemail service will inform you about our service’s opening hours but does not accept messages.

 

 

Opening hours:

 

Tuesdays: 11.00am – 1.00pm & 2.00pm – 4.00pm

 

Wednesdays: 11.00am – 1.00pm & 2.00pm – 4.00pm

 

 

Eligibility:

 

Individuals are eligible to use our service if they meet the following criteria:

·         woman

·         living in England & Wales

·         experienced or at risk of Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG)

·         EU citizen (including EEA and Swiss) or the family member of an EU citizen

 

A third-party (e.g. support worker) calling on behalf of a woman who meets these criteria is also eligible. To ensure best practice, we ask that the woman is present, wherever possible.

 

 

Languages:

 

We are only able to advise in English.

 

Callers who require an interpreter can request one from us when they call and we will endeavour to provide a telephone interpreter where possible.

 

Our EU Settlement Scheme advice line will open on 4th June 2019 and will be open weekly until our government funding ends on 31st March 2020.

Please check our website for any updates to the operation of this service here https://rightsofwomen.org.uk/get-advice/immigration-and-asylum-law/.

Rights of Women supports call for independent inquiry into approach to domestic abuse in the Family Court

 

We are part of a group of family and human rights lawyers who have signed to a letter sent to the Ministry of Justice calling on them to carry out a full independent inquiry into protection for survivors of domestic abuse and their children in the Family Courts.

The letter welcomes the Government’s proposal to review the treatment of domestic abuse in the Family Courts but, we feel, does not go far enough. For justice to be done, an independent inquiry is necessary.

Read the letter here.

And an article in the Guardian here.

If you would like to join the growing number of family and human rights lawyers who have signed the letter, contact Cris McCurley of Ben Hoare Bell LLP, at CrisMcCurley@benhoarebell.co.uk.

 

 

Rights of Women’s new report recommending changes to the Exceptional Case Funding scheme

We welcome today’s publication by the Government of its long-awaited Post-Implementation Review of Part 1 of LASPO alongside an action plan to improve access to justice.

We are pleased to see within these documents that the Government recognises the Exceptional Case Funding (ECF) scheme is in need of reform and in particular the acknowledgement that it “will also work with legal professionals and the advice sector to explore opportunities to simplify the ECF scheme and ensure it works as effectively as possible.”

In addition to announcing that it will consider simplifying the ECF scheme to improve access and whether a new urgent case procedure is needed and it has also committed to improving the speed of ECF decision-making.

Today we launch our research report Accessible or beyond reach? Navigating the Exceptional Case Funding Scheme without a lawyer which provides a detailed analysis of the ECF scheme’s accessibility for women survivors of domestic and sexual violence and abuse.

Our report’s findings provide an evidence-based consideration of the matters the Government has identified it wishes to address including its inaccessibility to individuals, chronic delays in decision making and an urgent case procedure that is not fit for purpose.

We are hopeful that this will assist the Government in taking the necessary steps swiftly and effectively to overhaul the ECF scheme and improve access to justice without delay.

Rights of Women’s survivor consultation – a brief summary

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?

Advice line

  • 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?

Website

  • 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?

Publications

  • 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’

 
 
 

Contact us at:


Rights of Women,
52-54 Featherstone Street,
London, EC1Y 8RT.
Administration: 020 7251 6575
Email: info@row.org.uk