Highlights from WAO’s 2015 Report “Working Together: Case Studies in Domestic Violence Response

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Highlights from WAO’s 2015 Report “Working Together: Case Studies in Domestic Violence Response”

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WAO’s 2015 Report, “Working Together: Case Studies in Domestic Violence Response,” highlighted a number of issues based on WAO’s statistics collected in 2014. These issues, which remain relevant, and offer additional insight into both the experiences of survivors as well as the current state of domestic violence response, are summarised below:

l  Domestic violence occurs repeatedly over an extended period

n  WAO’s 2014 data showed that forty-four women (40%) of the 110 domestic violence survivors surveyed reported experiences of domestic violence occurring for more than five years; 45 women (41%) for between one and five years; and 21 women (19%) for less than one year. This means that up to 89 women (81%) could be classified as having faced sustained and prolonged violence in the home (more than one year in duration). Along with Highlight 3, above, this data re-emphasises the need for a coordinated community response to domestic violence--one that is sensitive and lets the survivor know that if she leaves her abusive situation, she will not be alone.

l  Police act as first responders in most cases

n  A key learning point from a review of the 110 cases surveyed in 2014 was that women are heavily reliant on the police as first responders in situations of domestic violence. Sixty-eight out of the 110 women surveyed (62%) sought help from the police before seeking other government or NGO services. This shows that women recognise the police’s vital role in stopping perpetrators and believe that the police can end the violence by holding perpetrators accountable for their actions. Prompt and protective action does not just stop the violence; it also sends a strong message within communities that the police are intolerant of violence against women. This may, in itself, act as a deterrent to future perpetrators.

l  Multiple dimensions of health services

n  Health services are another critical service sector for women survivors and their children. For many women who approach hospitals as a first step, the provision of first aid and medical care for physical injuries sustained from domestic violence leads to contact with a medical social worker, who can refer the women to other forms of protection, such as the police, welfare, and access to NGO safe shelters. Where One Stop Service Centres (OSCC) are in operation, these critical referral mechanisms are functional. However, such coordinated service is not widely available, and does not exist in the private health sector; private clinics are the first point of call for many women. Fifty-one of the 110 women (46%) approached clinics and hospitals to obtain medical assistance for physical injuries.

l  Low awareness of welfare services

n  A worrying trend is the low uptake of welfare services. Out of the 110 women surveyed in 2014, 91 (83%) had not approached the Social Welfare Department for assistance before being referred to a welfare officer by NGO case advocates. The main barrier reported is that women simply did not know of the critical role that the Social Welfare Department plays in enabling their protection from further violence. This is unfortunate in view of the high satisfaction level (90%) reported by the 19 women who did approach welfare officers on their own.

l  More support needed for women to obtain legal representation

n  A woman’s access to justice can be strongly enhanced by the availability of legal representation services. Women survivors often face a series of legal issues, including related to divorce and child custody. Only 12 women (11%) among the 110 women sought legal assistance. The remaining 98 women did not seek legal assistance. The main reasons the women did not seek legal assistance were: they could not afford the fees (32 women), and they were unaware of the availability of legal aid (41 women). Through WAO’s intervention, 38 women were able to access legal services through WAO’s legal aid fund, the Bar Council Legal Aid Centre, and other through other means.

l  Limited reach of NGO response and shelter availability

n  It is imperative to also review the service delivery by NGOs, and the impact of NGO advocacy on the government’s efforts to address violence against women, and specifically domestic violence. The active participation of civil society organisations, particularly, women’s groups, contributes significantly to advocating for reform in the domestic violence legal, policy, and implementation elements. Engagement with government is critical, not just for advancing accountability of state responders but also to inform policy-makers on women’s experiences. Continued participation by progressive women’s groups can ensure that non-discrimination and equality for women are positioned at the centre of policy formulation and state service delivery to women survivors and their children.

n  NGO contribute tremendously to direct service provision for domestic violence survivors. However, in 2014, of the 110 women surveyed, 65 (59%) reported that they were unaware of the range of services offered by NGOs, which could have helped them earlier in their domestic violence experience. It is apparent that NGOs must be more engaged in public awareness initiatives and in working more closely with community structures to bridge this information gap.

n  A key concern is the limited availability of NGO services, particularly of shelters. While there are shelters run by the Social Welfare Department, there are few facilities nationwide that specifically serve women survivors of domestic violence. Those services that do exist are frequently oversubscribed. 

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