Tackling Violence Against Disabled Women and Girls Conference Report
This event was funded by DRILL (Disability Research in Independent Living and Learning). One of the aims of the event was to feed back the findings of a research project that was a collaboration between Vision Sense, AVA (Against Violence and Abuse) and the Centre for Disability Research (CeDR) at Lancaster University. The research questions for this project were:
- What do disabled/Deaf women and girls want from services to help them stay safe in the medium and longer term after violence and abuse?
- What can service providers learn from Serious Case Reviews/Safeguarding Adults Reviews to prevent violence and abuse?
- How can mental health, social care and housing providers improve longer term services for disabled women and girls after violence or abuse?
- How can services work together with disabled/Deaf women and girls to create safer, inclusive communities?
- The day brought together disabled women, activists, researchers, and professionals to discuss how we can work together to tackle violence against disabled women and girls.
Jacqueline Ritchie, DRILL Grant Officer, (Disability Action Northern Ireland) opened the conference by explaining how DRILL came about and what sort of projects they have funded. DRILL is Big Lottery funded and they work closely with people who are doing research projects. She is very pleased with the success of this project.
Dr Hannah Morgan’s presentation was called Learning from Safeguarding Adults Reviews (SARs) . She presented the research that she has been doing at CeDR, Lancaster University. This part of the project involved the researchers obtaining and analysing Safeguarding Adults Review (SAR) documents. These are published when someone with care or support needs has died or been harmed. They try to determine what the services and people involved could have done differently to prevent the harm or death, however they do not focus on blame but on learning for the future. The Care Act 2014 provides a statutory framework for protecting people from abuse and neglect sees this as an essential element of their wellbeing. Once of the challenges of this work was that there is no legal requirement to publish these documents, and until recently there was no central repository SCIE have set up a central library of SARs [nb It is free to access but you must create an account with SCIE] .
Hannah told us that some of the SARs are about people who have neglected themselves. It is very difficult to decide when self-
neglect is a safeguarding concern, because it involves finding a balance between mental capacity, human rights and protection. The Mental Capacity Act 2005 shows that making an unwise decision does not mean someone lacks capacity, but stepping back too far can be problematic, as it can sometimes be used as an excuse not to uphold people’s right to life and wellbeing. Services need to notice when people do not attend their appointments and of patterns arising from particular institutions, like care homes.
Hannah told us that risks are being underestimated and there is a lack of adequate transition planning. People are being placed out of area, too far from home and family, and therefore housing and accessible local services are very important issues. Some women are staying in the wrong setting for too long because there are no other options, and often there are no arrangements in place to keep contact when she moves.
Hannah recommended that SARs be located within a human rights framework so the emphasis is on promoting and safeguarding people’s human rights. They should have a standardised format and be kept in a place where people can access them easily. They should contain more detail about the person in order to foster a learning culture. You can read Hannah’s presentation here Learning from safeguarding adults reviews [powerpoint slides].
Dr Susie Balderston from Vision Sense then presented her research, Learning from victims/survivors. She told us that 60% of safeguarding alerts are about women and disabled/Deaf women and girls are 3 times more likely to experience violence. One of the problems is that police and safeguarding systems are not joined up. Women need stable, safe and accessible places to live, near friends and family, and have their choice of assistance. Friendship with other survivors is very important, as women can support each other without having to explain about their experiences and needs. Gender specific spaces are important to counter social isolation, as well as safe positive relationships with men.
Susie recommended that there should be more support for self-advocacy, peer advocacy and independent advocacy. It is
important to have gender specific services that take into account experiences of violence, and which follow a reciprocal model where people are able to help each other out. You can read Susie’s presentation The User Led Perspective [pdf file].
The last presentation of the morning was Dr Aviah Day from AVA. She presented Learning from service providers, about research which involved peer researchers interviewing professionals. She told us that one of the problems is that housing workers do not link up with other services enough, and disabled women are not seen as individuals. Some services are unwilling to see relationships as intimate partnerships, rather than merely about caring for the person. Aviah commented on the good practice that was found, such as effective communication between services that provide a single point of contact, and services that provide disability training to their staff. Some of the barriers for disabled women were the working hours and location of services, access issues such as use of jargon or language barriers, lack of awareness of what is available, and differing eligibility requirements.
Aviah recommended that services be survivor led, wrap around services that provide a tailored package. Services need to take an intersectional approach and be well publicised in an accessible way. It is important to discuss positive examples of support rather than just mapping the problems. You can read Aviah’s presentation Professionals Supporting Disabled Survivors of Abuse and Violence [pdf file]
After lunch, Lorna Steven’s from Lancaster University presented Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conferences (MARACs). MARACs involve multiple agencies including health, housing, substance use and social care. She found that MARACs can help prevent murder of women because they involve communication between agencies. She found that MARACs were risk focussed and that only those deemed to have the highest risk of death are able to access support. Numbers of disabled women referred to MARAC was low in terms of the general population, and the disabled women were classed as vulnerable adults rather than as women who are experiencing domestic violence.
Lorna recommended that the MARAC system be more inclusive, involving the women themselves, and there should be recognition of the many forms of abuse. The focus should be more on longer term provision rather than just short term interventions. You can read Lorna’s presentation Disabled women survivors of domestic abuse, their experiences, and their absence at MARAC [pdf file]
The next presentation was Louisa Steel from Standing Together Against Domestic Violence. She gave an introduction to Housing First for survivors of domestic abuse. The Housing First model provides a permanent offer of a home with no conditions other than maintaining the tenancy. The accommodation and support offered is tailored to the individual. This support works particularly well for people who face multiple barriers as it focusses on their strengths and flexible support is provided as long as needed. Housing First has a strong partnership with services and there are very good outcomes with physical health and reduction in substance use and contact with the criminal justice system.
Louisa presented some comments from women that she has worked with. Many of the women have experienced domestic violence and also had the trauma of having children taken away. One woman said she likes the consistency of people working with her. Another woman said it is important to feel safe with the workers and that they recognise what she has been through. Louisa hopes that Housing First will be extended throughout the country. You can read Louisa’s presentation An introduction to Housing First [pdf file]
The final presentation was Marie Vickers from DeafHope. She talked about Tackling violence against Deaf women and girls. She told us that there are 87,000 people who are Deaf, whose first language is British Sign Language (BSL) in the UK. Deaf people are united in their life experiences and in their language; they have their own community. Deaf women are twice as likely to experience domestic violence than hearing women yet DeafHope is the only DV service for Deaf women in the UK. Most DV services are accessible by telephone helplines which are inaccessible to Deaf women. There is a lack of BSL interpreters, and most are not specialists in DV. It is very important to be able to access Deaf interpreters as well as hearing interpreters, and the NRCPD website has a place to book these.
There are particular risks that relate to the Deaf community. Communication barriers can prevent Deaf people from reporting abuse, and there is often a lack of awareness about what constitutes abuse. Hearing perpetrators can use a person’s deafness as a way of controlling them, and Deaf perpetrators may use their deafness as a way to avoid prosecution.
Marie recommended that services should be made more accessible and staff should go on a Deaf Awareness course. Services should always check a person’s preferred method of communication, and they should book a BSL interpreter for all meetings. You can read Marie’s presentation Specialist domestic abuse service for Deaf people and children [pdf file].
After all the presentations, we joined into groups to answer four questions:
- What’s going well?
- What are the barriers for disabled women accessing services?
- What are the agency/organisational barriers?
- How can we improve practice and outcomes?
You can read the groups responses to these questions here
There was a discussion about the inclusion of women with learning disabilities. Services for people with learning disabilities are very risk averse, yet it is very important to make domestic violence services accessible to all disabled people.
Some people pointed out how important it is to talk to disabled women away from the perpetrator, and therefore it is key to find a safe space to allow women to disclose.
Everyone agreed that service accessibility is key. One of the outcomes from this project is a toolkit for services, which we will link to when it is published.
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