Gender-based violence is violence directed against a person because of that person’s gender or violence that affects a person’s particular gender disproportionately. Violence against women is a violation of human rights and a form of discrimination.
Catch22 supports victims of violence, both through our Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) and Child Criminal Exploitation (CCE) services, as well as three specific services with different remits in relation to supporting victims of domestic abuse and sexual violence: Leicestershire Victim First, Hertfordshire Beacon Victim Care and Nottinghamshire Victim CARE.
The work of Catch22’s victim services gives us valuable insight into domestic violence and sexual abuse including the challenges of emergency housing, the treatment of victims, and the lack of awareness of laws that can protect people and prevent risk.
Access to support
With the national lockdowns, Victim First has, for example, supported victims needing emergency housing due to domestic violence and risk. The local authority and housing support have been restricted and often left victims on a waiting list. This has put more pressure on support services to inform victims of safety planning and the police to respond to further incidents. Victim First acts as a safety net for specialist support services which has been highlighted even more during COVID-19.
We know that many women have been told by services they should leave the perpetrator or that they cannot access as much support until they leave the relationship. Our services tell us this is not always helpful: what is helpful for women is advice around safety planning whilst they are deciding what to do.
There are also women and girls who go ‘under the radar’ without support because specialist services do not have enough funding to support them if they do not have specific support needs and are not deemed high risk. This is highly problematic and places such individuals at increased risk.
Prevention and education
Catch22’s victim services are also seeing patterns of women being repeat victims by different perpetrators. The majority of campaigns and training delivered around raising awareness about violence against women and girls focuses on being able recognise the signs of abuse, rather than teaching healthy relationships at an early age and preventing perpetrator behaviour at the root cause.
A way of doing this is Clare’s Law, which gives any member of the public the right to ask the police if their partner may pose a risk to them. Our services find that many women are, however, not aware of this, and online information requests, in our experience, don’t always work properly when victims try to submit forms. As well as awareness in the right areas, there are these accessibility issues.
The perception of gender-based violence
The way a victim is perceived usually determines how they are treated by different people, including the perpetrator, support services and the police. If a victim is seen as low risk, they may well not get the support they need.
The perception and treatment of victims suffering violence is often based on physical evidence. Sarah Parker, Research and Development Manager at Catch22 says:
“People (including perpetrators) often fail to recognise rape, for example, unless there are obvious bruises etc.”
Violence doesn’t necessarily involve physical force, as it could be threatening or psychological harm, but Sarah adds “because we view girls and women as ‘weaker’, this is usually the focus.”
This focus on physical harm is evident in some areas more than others; some women had negative responses from the police regarding their experience of sexual violence and ideas around gender bias. Through criminal justice processes, girls may be seen as having been complicit in violent, coercive or exploitative sexual acts, retraumatising and revictimising them.
Physical and sexual violence is, for example, normalised in many forms of child criminal exploitation, such as County Lines. Girls involved in County Lines are more likely to be offered CSE (child sexual exploitation) support than CCE (child criminal exploitation) support, meaning some of the very real threats of harm and actual harm aren’t addressed. In this way, systems can perpetuate further violence against girls who have had the courage to speak about their experiences.
Additionally, public understanding of these issues is problematic. There is still the perception that boys do not experience sexual assault, with one of our young female service users, stating, “If I was a boy this wouldn’t have happened to me.” This damaging perception is harmful and isolating to all survivors of sexual violence.
There are many areas of improvement: shifting the focus on preventing violence against women and girls, changing the perception of victims, and dismantling the hierarchy of sexual assault from all angles. Catch22 services tackle some of these issues through our victim services model. The victim is at the centre of all our support, every victim is given an individualised support plan, and restorative interventions are increasingly used to empower the victim to recover.