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Domestic Abuse

Domestic Abuse Commissioner calls for more support for abuse victims

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James Harbottle
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Domestic Abuse Commissioner calls for more support for abuse victims

A new report has revealed that 89 per cent of domestic abuse survivors don’t get any support when they go through the family courts.

Lauren Preedy - Senior Associate Solicitor - Head of Divorce and Relationships Team
Lauren Preedy – Senior Associate Solicitor – Head of Divorce and Relationships Team

The report was prepared by SafeLives, a UK-wide charity dedicated to ending domestic abuse, and commissioned by the Domestic Abuse Commissioner Nicole Jacobs, an independent voice who speaks on behalf of abuse victims and survivors.

The aim of the report was to shine a spotlight on the support victims and survivors of domestic abuse receive in both the criminal and family justice system. As part of its work SafeLives carried out a survey of abuse victims and survivors who had been through the court process.

The report follows a Government report last year into how the family court protects children and parents in private law children cases involving domestic abuse. That report found that domestic abuse victims and their children were being failed and were being placed at risk of further harm by the family courts system, and recommended that as a matter of course Independent Domestic Abuse Advisors (‘IDVAs’), who support and guide domestic abuse victims through the justice system, be allowed to accompany the party they are supporting into court.

The SafeLives report made a number of key findings, and set out recommendations for change.

Key findings

Key findings of those surveyed as part of the report included that:

domestic abuse bill violence

  • Almost 90 per cent of domestic abuse victims don’t get any support through the family courts.
  • One in five IDVAs is blocked from entering the courts. This was partly because perpetrators did not want them to be included or they were prohibited from entering proceedings by court officials including judges.
  • The impact of the pandemic will be felt by survivors and services for years to come – 67 per cent of services said they had noticed an increase in case length since Covid and backlogs are running into at least 2022.
  • The single most commonly cited intervention that improved survivors’ experience of going through the courts was dedicated court domestic abuse support, yet there are still very few IDVAs who specialise in the family courts or criminal justice system.

One abuse survivor told researchers: “The Family Court process has left me severely traumatised, worse than the DV [domestic violence] itself.  I was belittled, undermined, exposed to my abusive ex repeatedly, my children were not listened to and it felt like father’s rights trumped mine and negated his history of DV.  I’ve never been more frightened and alone in my life.”

Recommendations from the Domestic Abuse CommissionerIan Walker Solicitors team

The recommendations contained in the report included:

  • The need for urgent action on court backlogs and increased long-term investment.
  • Recognising the role of IDVAs as an integral part of court systems.
  • Realising ‘trauma-informed’ courts and cultural change training for all professionals
  • Better strategic support, coordination and understanding of sexual violence.

Responding to the report, the Domestic Abuse Commissioner called for urgent long-term funding and more court support for victims of abuse.

She said: “This report comes at a time when there have been significant falls in prosecutions of domestic abuse in the criminal courts, and serious failings acknowledged by Government around the treatment of survivors and their children in the family courts.

“Survivors going through the courts also continue to be impacted by the delays caused by the Covid pandemic and will be for some years to come. In this most difficult of contexts, the changes we are calling for cannot come fast enough.”

She went on: “I am extremely concerned that so few victims who are going through the family courts are getting any support at all. The kind of cases that go through the family courts are often highly emotional and usually linked to child custody cases. This must change as a matter of urgency.”