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Peer-researched report on sexual violence out

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Agenda, AVA, National Commission, domestic and sexual abuse, report, peer-researchers, lived experience, a place to go toThere was one very simple need: a place to escape to.

Agenda and AVA recently launched Hand in Hand, a report by women with lived experience for the National Commission on Domestic and Sexual Violence and Multiple Disadvantage.

The report is based on interviews by peer-researchers with other women facing violence and multiple disadvantage and lays bare the challenges survivors of domestic and sexual violence still face.

And it outlines key areas for change, including calling for support services to be trauma-informed and for more staff with lived experience to be on the workforce.

AVA and Agenda were funded by the Lloyds Bank Foundation for England and Wales from April 2017 to April 2019, to establish a national commission focusing on domestic and sexual abuse against women facing multiple disadvantage.

The commission was set up to examine the links between domestic and sexual abuse and severe multiple disadvantage, looking particularly at mental health and substance use issues and the experiences of women facing these issues, including their views of what kinds of services would best meet their needs, supporting them to rebuild their lives.

At the end of each interview or survey they had taken part in, the women were asked what they would recommend and for messages to people in positions of power.

These recommendations have been split into 5 core areas: awareness raising and prevention; the importance of experts by experience; multi-agency support; staff training; and empathy.

Awareness raising via campaigns, posters and prevention work in schools was a top priority for most women.

One woman said: ‘I think if I had seen posters about sexual abuse when I was younger, then those men that abused me when I was younger, I would have reported them, and it would have stopped them abusing anyone else.

Another said: ‘If there were people at schools who came and talk to you, but there was never kind of anyone there who mentioned it and talked about it. We need education at school’.

Most of the women said they felt the practitioners they had engaged with had not fully understood them if they had not had similar experiences themselves.

This was also evident when reading the peer-researcher interview transcripts; as the peer-researchers were women with lived experience, the interviewees felt more comfortable speaking to them about what they had been through.

Multi-Agency Support or ‘one stop shops’ were mentioned as an ideal source of support, especially those with a 24-hour access helpline.

As well as drop-in services for relevant support agencies such as the police, substance use services, housing support, mental health support and domestic abuse services, it was felt that there was also one very simple need: a place to escape to.

Training for all services was another common request. The main topics addressed were the need  for  service providers to have an understanding of abuse; including the many varied reasons why it is so hard to leave an abusive relationship, along with clarity around the impacts that trauma has on women’s lives.

There was also a sense that the general public needed more information on these issues.

The importance of a trusting relationship built on understanding and empathy was absolutely vital for women to feels safe and confident to engage with services. This underpins everything else.

And professionals should have an understanding of how to create trauma-informed  approaches to working with women who have experienced multiple disadvantage, and to develop a holistic view of the woman as a whole person and not just a victim of an experience.

Following on from Hand in Hand, the National Commission will be publishing its full and final report ‘Breaking Down The Barriers’ on 27 February.

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