Domestic and Sexual Abuse support for survivors – local to international

By Dorothy Hodgkinson

Domestic abuse and the potential impacts upon individuals’ lives – something I give a lot of time and attention to.  In recent days, I have heard amazing positive news locally and at the same time, horrendous news from across the Atlantic.

Let’s get the worst out of the way first. It seems that President Trump has managed to slip through a change to the legal definition of domestic abuse without, seemingly, anyone noticing for months.  Last Spring, the definition was changed so that only physical abuse such as would qualify as a felony like physical assault causing physical injury will count as domestic abuse.

All the decades of campaigning to get decision-makers to recognise emotional, psychological and sexual abuse as part of domestic abuse – often the worst parts of domestic abuse have potentially been wiped out in the US.  A researcher discovered the change months after the change went through and reported it in an article in December 2019.

She was horrified that this had gone through without serious media attention. I am seriously terrified on behalf of all those who suffer and now, in the US at any rate, will not have legal recognition of what they have gone through or recourse to the law to protect themselves.

Developments in Yorkshire

On the good news front, here in Leeds and York, UK, I am part of two groups – the Inspiring Women Changemakers Domestic Abuse Steering Group and the York Domestic Abuse Working Group.  Each is taking a slightly different area of work around trying to improve the situation for victims/survivors within the legal context.  Both are seeing significant steps forward in the work they do.

First, the IWC Steering Group – reviewing the current CPS (Crown Prosecution Service) Guidelines for Pre-Trial Therapy for Victims of Domestic Abuse.  We have already had a positive Round Table with legal representation from both a large solicitors’ practice and a barristers’ Chambers in Leeds, a Government minister and a representative from the voluntary sector working in this area as detailed in fellow steering group member Erene’s blog.

Following that meeting, we have also had successful meetings with a local barrister to work in more detail on our review of the Guidelines.  Through him, we have gained access to a regional Chief Constable keen to hear about therapeutic resources in the local area. He would like to see his police officers refer victims/survivors to these services, and would help with giving access to the CPS staff who are overseeing the review of the Guidelines.  We couldn’t have hoped for better.

Secondly, the Domestic Abuse Working Group I attend in York has been at the forefront of supporting work to bring the ‘CLOCK’ project from Keele University to the University of York and York St John University.  ‘CLOCK’ stands for Community Legal Outreach Collaboration Keele and facilitates students from within the Law Department to provide support to ‘litigants in person’ (ie those who do not qualify for Legal Aid and cannot afford to pay for solicitors/barristers but are involved in legal proceedings).

The primary focus of the project is to provide moral support and note taking in court for such individuals.  January 2020 has seen the launch of a full-time service at the Family Law Courts in York manned by students from both local universities, in collaboration with several firms of solicitors, court staff, IDAS (Independent Domestic Abuse Service) and members of the judiciary.

It was wonderful to attend the launch event for this service, especially as initial hopes had been that there might be a couple of half days a week covered by students.  To know that the service started from day one with full-time cover was beyond anyone’s dreams.

So, in the face of what are often the worst of scenarios for individuals to find themselves in, good news is happening to counter the bad news that is all too often the focus of media coverage.

Erene Hadjiioannou is a qualified Integrative Psychotherapist with a qualification in Integrative Psychodynamic Counselling. She has been seeing adult clients in a variety of services since 2010 to offer psychotherapy and counselling and is a member of the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP). Erene works primarily from a trauma-informed and relational perspective, often using an embodied approach to talking therapy.

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