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Tackling DVA In Faith Communities: FOUNDATIONS FOR THE FUTURE

The Bishop of Durham – The Rt Revd Paul Butler, addressing conference delegates

On the 23rd of November 2017, we hosted an educational conference geared to empowering faith communities to tackle  Domestic Violence & Abuse (DVA) that occurs in their own  environments. The conference themed “Foundations For The  Future”, was set to lay out a mandate of key objectives to be urgently implemented by faith communities & professionals in addressing the social pandemic in this unique society group, given known challenges examined during the event.

This task was sealed by the signing of a declaration by the 80 delegates & invited guests in attendance, as an act of commitment to participating in the  eradication of DVA in faith communities over the long haul. Furthermore, delegates were inspired to set up DVA projects within their faith communities – stand alone or interdependent, to improve practical responses to the multi-dimensional plight of adult & child survivors.

Kudakwashe Nyakudya teaching best approaches & legal perspectives for tackling DVA in faith communities

Conference guest faith leaders were The Bishop of Durham – The Rt Revd Paul Butler, The Bishop Of The Order Of St Leonards – The Rt Revd Dr David Carr OBE, Auxiliary Bishop of Birmingham – The Rt Revd William Kenney C.P., Founder of Imams Against Domestic Violence – Imam Abdullah Hasan, Chairperson Of  Warwick District Faiths Forum – Jatinder Birdi, Senior Pastor Of Zion City Tabernacle & Founder Of Not Another One – Windsor  Queensborough, Nottingham Liberal Jewish Synagogue Rabbi – Tanya Sakhnovich, & Safeguarding Lead Of Archdiocese of Birmingham – Jane Jones. Expert speakers for the event were Dr Lisa Oakley – Academic On Abuse Studies & Visiting  Fellow Bournemouth University, Damian Carnell – Trainer On Working With Perpetrators & Director Of End Gendered Abuse, & Kudakwashe Nyakudya – Consultant On DVA & Founding Director Of Kahrmel Wellness.

Faith leaders facilitating mandate discussion

The mandate laid out is a call for immediate action, for outcomes for adult & child survivors to start developing radically, with vision to extend its progress into the future. Its 24 key objectives include:

  1. For faith leaders to ensure that faith communities are safe spaces for victims/ survivors, encouraging & assisting them to seek support while challenging perpetrators
  2. For a general turnaround to be applied in the use of sacred texts – for texts that promote survivors’ welfare & freedom from abuse to be used, instead of those that  condemn them for seeking help or those normally misinterpreted by perpetrators to justify their abusive nature
  3. For judges, court advisors, & legal representatives to be trained on complex dynamics & cultural challenges in faith communities, & appropriate ways of working with this specific society group
  4. For spiritual healing – which is the linchpin for all round healing for adult & child survivors with a faith – to be facilitated in a safe worship environment

Delegates participating in mandate discussion

READ FULL MANDATE HERE…

The conference details…

Conference in pictures…

© Kahrmel Wellness 2017. All Rights Reserved.

MoJ scraps legal aid restrictions for victims of domestic violence

New rules removing time limit and allowing admission of fresh categories of evidence will come into force in January

Victims previously had to provide evidence of abuse within the past five years.Victims previously had to provide evidence of abuse within the past five years. Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA

Time limits preventing victims of domestic violence from obtaining legal aid for court hearings will be scrapped from January, the Ministry of Justice has announced.

The heavily criticised restrictions, which have resulted in large numbers of women confronting abusive ex-partners without representation, will also be relaxed to accept evidence from victim support organisations.

The changes deliver on signals that the system would be reformed given by the MoJ and revealed by the Guardian earlier this year.

Confirming the new guidelines for the Legal Aid Agency, the justice minister, Dominic Raab, said: “We have listened to victims’ groups and carefully reviewed the criteria for legal aid for victims of domestic abuse in family cases.

“These changes make sure that vulnerable women and children get legal support so their voice is properly heard in court.”

Legal aid has usually been available to victims of domestic violence and child abuse, or those deemed at risk, as long as they could provide evidence of abuse within the past five years.

Removal of the five-year limit and admission of fresh categories of evidence will help large numbers of women and some men who have been deprived of legal advice and representation in family court disputes over custody and contact with children.

The narrow evidence requirements were first imposed under the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders (Laspo) Act of 2012. The MoJ has launched a broader, formal review of the impact of the legislation on access to justice.

The new regulations will be detailed in a statutory instrument put before parliament this week.

Statements from domestic violence support organisations and housing support officers will in future be accepted as evidence of past abuse, as well as those from social services, law enforcement agencies and medical professionals.

Earlier this year the government announced a £17m fund to support 41 projects across the country to tackle violence against women and girls.

Steve Hynes, the director of the Legal Action Group who has campaigned against legal aid cuts, welcomed the change: “It’s taken a long time because of the general election and other delays. I’m very pleased they have made the announcement.

“They realised it’s a priority. It wasn’t working. Women who experienced domestic violence were not qualifying [for representation]. The amount of civil legal aid granted has fallen by 80% since Laspo was introduced.”

Elspeth Thomson, chair of the legal aid committee at the family law organisation Resolution, said: “We’ve been calling for changes to the evidence gateway since Laspo was implemented in 2013 and welcome this news. Parliament has committed to protect victims of domestic abuse so ministers have a duty to ensure that those who need legal aid are able to access it.

“These changes, made in consultation with Resolution and others, are a step in the right direction, allowing the justice system to better support at-risk and vulnerable people at perhaps the most difficult time of their lives – when the family unit is breaking down.

“Ultimately, these are real people, not statistics, and we must protect them and their access to the justice system.”

Estelle du Boulay, the director of the Rights of Women, said: “The changes … will make a significant difference to women experiencing or at risk of domestic abuse to access legal aid in private family law cases.

“The previous system was so clearly unjust, leaving many genuine survivors unable to access the legal aid they were entitled to, because the evidence requirements were narrow, onerous and unrealistic.

“We fought the government through the courts to bring in these reforms. We are particularly grateful to the many women survivors who provided testimony that enabled us to prove our case. Their voices have finally been listened to today.”

Cris McCurley, a family law lawyer at the law firm Ben Hoare Bell who has sat on the independent advisory group helping the MOJ throughout the review process, said: “In spite of the UN convention on the elimination of discrimination against women committee ruling that the [UK] government had to urgently review and ensure victims of violence would get legal aid for private family law proceedings in October 2013, these changes have only come about as a result of the hard work, dedication and courage of Rights of Women in pursuing their case against the MOJ on domestic violence eligibility for legal aid all the way to the court of appeal.”

The president of the Law Society of England and Wales, Joe Egan, said: “Legal aid is a lifeline for those who have suffered abuse. It is often the only way someone can bring their case before the courts. Today’s positive decision is the end result of work the Law Society and other organisations have been doing with the MoJ for many months.”

Sophie Walker, the leader of the Women’s Equality party, said:“The Ministry of Justice’s decision to lift these damaging restrictions on legal aid is welcome – and long overdue.

“Too many women have been denied justice over the last seven years as a result of the government’s short-sighted cuts.”

Link to original article

Also see:

Evidence tests relaxed for domestic violence legal aid

 

Bill published to end cross-examination of domestic violence victims by perpetrators

court-room-pic

By Family Law Week, 23 February 2017

The Government has published a Prisons and Courts Bill which, amongst other matters, seeks to put an end to domestic violence victims being cross-examined by their alleged attackers in the family courts, preventing what the Justice Secretary has described as a “humiliating and appalling” practice. This follows an urgent review she commissioned last month.

A fact sheet, published by the Ministry Of Justice and explaining the changes states:

“The proposed provisions will allow courts to put an end to the face-to-face crossexamination of vulnerable witnesses in the family courts, so that people who need to be heard are not afraid of speaking out.

For example, a party to family proceedings who has been convicted of committing an assault against the witness will not be allowed to put questions to that witness directly. The court must consider if there is a satisfactory alternative way of obtaining the evidence. If the court concludes that there is not, then it may appoint a publicly-funded legal representative to undertake the cross-examination.

The provisions will have the practical effect of:

a. introducing a blanket ban on cross-examination in person in certain specified circumstances – for example, where the would-be questioner has been convicted of committing a violent or sexual offence against the witness;

b. giving the court a discretion to prohibit such cross-examination in other specified circumstances – for example, where the court is satisfied that such cross-examination would cause significant distress to the witness;

c. requiring the court to consider alternatives to cross-examination where a prohibition on cross-examination in person applies;

d. giving the court a power in specified circumstances to appoint a funded legal representative to ask questions on behalf of a party who is prohibited from cross-examining in person; and

e. making provision for the public funding of such legal representatives.”

The Bill inserts into the Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Act 1984 a new Part 4B entitled ‘Family Proceedings: Prohibition of Cross-examination in Person’. For those provisions, click here.

The Bill received its First Reading on 23 February 2017 and will receive its Second Reading on a date to be appointed.

The Family Procedure Rule Committee has also launched a consultation in respect of a draft Practice Direction 3AA relating to the participation in proceedings of, and giving evidence by vulnerable persons. For more details, click here.

The Ministry of Justice has published a research study exploring how the family judiciary manage cases with the cross-examination of vulnerable or intimidated witnesses by alleged perpetrators of abuse, and establishing what, if any, further provisions could be considered to support them in doing so. For that document, click here.

Also see:

Factsheet: Prohibition of cross-examination in person in specified circumstances in family proceedings

Full Bill: Prisons and Courts Bill (HC Bill 145)

Alleged perpetrators of abuse as litigants in person in private family law: The cross-examination of vulnerable and intimidated witnesses

 

Theresa May’s Plans To Transform How Domestic Violence & Abuse Is Tackled

theresa-may

Prime Minister Theresa May announced plans for a major programme of work leading towards bringing forward a Domestic Violence and Abuse Act.

Originally Published By UK Home Office, 17 February 2017

Theresa May has today announced plans to transform the way we think about and tackle domestic violence and abuse – one of the most widespread and heinous offences, but one where victims are often let down by the legal system.

Domestic violence and abuse shatters lives but the way we deal with it at the moment does not go far enough – with a plethora of different offences and procedures scattered across the statute book.

This lack of clarity has led to an unacceptable diversity across the country in terms of the degree of effort put in to try and tackle it. Although the prosecution of, and convictions for, such offences have started to improve in recent years, there is inconsistency in the use and effectiveness of the various law enforcement measures across the country.

In recognition of this, the Prime Minister has announced plans for a major new programme of work leading towards bringing forward a Domestic Violence and Abuse Act.

The programme of work will look at what more can be done to improve support for victims especially in the way the law, and legal procedures, currently work for such victims. Experts in this area will be invited to contribute ideas and proposals for improving the way the system works which is likely to lead to legislation – making it much easier for law enforcement bodies to find and use more consistently the measures at their disposal. The Prime Minister will also ask for any potential ‘quick wins’ in the intervening period to be identified and acted upon. The Prime Minister will directly oversee this work, which will be truly cross-governmental – but co-ordinated by the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice.

Like the Modern Slavery Act, the Prime Minister believes that the measures that come out of this work will raise public awareness of the problem – as well as encourage victims to report their abusers and see them brought to justice.

Prime Minister Theresa May said:

Domestic violence and abuse is a life shattering and absolutely abhorrent crime; tackling it is a key priority for this government – and something I have always attached a personal importance to, both as Home Secretary and now as Prime Minister. I am clear that we need to build on the measures I introduced as Home Secretary – including the new offence of ‘Controlling and Coercive Behaviour’, Domestic Violence Protection Orders, and the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme – and ensure that no stone will be left unturned in delivering a system that increases convictions, and works better for victims.

She added:

I believe that the plans I have announced today have the potential to completely transform the way we think about and tackle domestic violence and abuse. There are thousands of people who are suffering at the hands of abusers – often isolated, and unaware of the options and support available to them to end it. Given the central importance of victim evidence to support prosecutions in this area, raising public awareness – as well as consolidating the law – will prove crucial.

Also see:

Theresa May: I want to transform how we think about domestic violence

Domestic violence: Theresa May to oversee new law

SafeLives welcomes ‘major overhaul’ of domestic abuse legislation

Tackling Domestic Abuse: Overcoming The Conflicts Of Culture

culture

Written By Kudakwashe Nyakudya

One of the conflicts that confronts many survivors of  Domestic Violence & Abuse (DVA) is that which is aggravated by culture. Often faith communities, professionals & other society groups embrace particular cultures in tackling DVA, which may have progressively developed over time.

Survivors, on the other hand, would also be a part of these inter-mingled cultures, which generally influence how they respond to their lived experience of DVA. However, DVA is a more compounded reality for adult & child survivors whose culture is intertwined to their religion & or ethnicity (1, 2).

In such a case, the manifestation of culture towards victims & survivors becomes a barrier to freedom from the pandemic.  There is therefore a general need for cultures to shift so that bridges are built where barriers exist, to enable survivors to have an improved experience of walking into their freedom.

Simply defined culture is how we live our lives in terms of norms, lifestyles, & customs. It is learned, not inherited – generated from an individual’s social environment, not their genes (3). Culture is based on ideas and where it is shared, it forms social group’s concepts (3).

From the experiences of women like me, it has been shown that survivors pursuing freedom are accepted by their communities if they ‘remain silent’, ‘brush their experiences under the carpet’, & work to ‘hold their broken marriages together’ – but opposed when they speak up, rip up the carpet, & seek for separation from their perpetrators (4, 5, 6).

This brings untoward tensions & their commitment to their place of belonging – in community & or in God – is judged in such a context, leading to overbearing consequences. Survivors often have to make the radical choice of abandoning their cultural groups to find long lasting freedom in isolation. At the same time, safeguarding professionals also judge a survivor’s commitment to the welfare of her children by the same choice (1).

This option can be appropriate when survivors are initially leaving their perpetrators. However at post-separation new cultural challenges emerge. It is common for faith communities to project for survivors to ‘forgive’ their perpetrators & ‘reconcile’ with them, & for professionals like Social Workers & Family Courts,  to expect them to ‘work amicably’ with their perpetrators for the ‘best interests of the children’ (1, 5, 7).

Survivors who find themselves in such cultural concoctions need sharp objectives that are managed diligently in order to build up their ability to find ultimate freedom, amidst all the complexities. At times, there is no easier way than being patient & waiting – for Social Services & Family Courts to complete their proceedings, & to find new ideas for creating a new culture that promotes freedom.

Survivors from faith communities would need to rediscover that God’s love for them is not shaken by cultural concoctions, & that they can still reach out to it to find healing, refreshment, renewal, & revival. Culture purely based on God’s love for people facilitates freedom from oppression, not condemnation.

Instead of abuse, this pure culture offers provision for survivors to find their purpose & fully prosper in it, for their potential to achieve is not removed by DVA, but rather it awaits to be re-activated & exploited.

For society groups around survivors, it is paramount for bridges to be built where barriers exist, to enable survivors to carry less burdens when they journey into their freedom. Cultures like victim-blaming need to be replaced by active accountability, where a better understanding of survivors’ lived experience reforms new cultures that promote complete freedom from DVA.

Active accountability focuses on the responsibility of society’s leaders to take practical action that enforces positive change in their cultural spheres, while holding perpetrators accountable – with practical demonstrations of the consequences of their abusive behaviours, in order to prioritise the needs of survivors.

If cultures are learned, not inherited, it is possible to shift from ideas that have heavily compromised survivors’ pursuit of freedom, to a new shared cultural reformation that empowers survivors to rebuild their lives with due support & resources.

References:

  1. Thiara, R. K. & Gill, A. K. (2012). Domestic Violence, Child contact and Post-Separation Violence  Issues for South Asian and African-Caribbean Women and Children: A Report of Findings. National  Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children: London.
  2. National Resource Center on Domestic Violence. (2007). Religion and Domestic Violence: Information and Resources. National Resource Center on Domestic Violence: Pennsylvania.
  3. Spencer-Oatey, H. (2012). What Is Culture? A Compilation Of Quotations. GlobalPAD Core Concepts: Warwick. Online accessed 14 February 2017 at https://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/soc/al/globalpad/openhouse/interculturalskills/global_pad_-_what_is_culture.pdf.
  4. Chine Mbubaegbu. (2013). Domestic Violence: In Churches Too. Evangelical Alliance: London. Online accessed 14 February 2017 at http://www.eauk.org/idea/domestic-violence-in-churches-too.cfm.
  5. Methodist Conference 2002 Report. (2002). Domestic Violence and the Methodist Church – the Way Forward. The Report and Recommendations on Domestic Violence and the Methodist Church. Methodist Publishing: Peterborough.
  6. Rosen, R. (2011). One In Four Jewish Women Suffer Abuse In The Home. The Jewish Chronicle: London. Online accessed 14 February 2017 at
    https://www.thejc.com/news/uk-news/one-in-four-jewish-women-suffer-abuse-in-the-home-1.21790.
  7. Women’s Aid. (2016). Child First: Safe Child Contact Saves Lives. Women’s Aid: London. Online accessed 14 February 2017 at https://www.womensaid.org.uk/childfirst/.

Also see:

Understanding The “LIVED EXPERIENCE” Of Victims

There Is No “Victim Blaming” Where There Is True Justice

Cross Government Overhaul Needed For Domestic Violence & Abuse Services

© Kudakwashe Nyakudya 2017. All Rights Reserved.

Significant shift: UK judges change court rules on child contact for violent fathers

Reforms aim to end presumption that a father must have contact with a child when there is evidence of domestic abuse 

Family court in High Holborn, London.
Family court in High Holborn, London. Photograph: Nick Ansell/PA

The reforms are to be introduced in the family courts after campaigning by the charity Women’s Aid, which identified that 19 children have been killed in the last 10 years by their violent fathers after being given contact with them by judges.

The changes include a demand from one of the most senior family court judges for all the judiciary to have further training on domestic violence and to act to ensure women and children are protected.

Mr Justice Cobb announced the changes on Friday after talks with Women’s Aid, and following concerns raised in a Guardian investigation.

Cobb said: “It is indeed most disturbing to note that for at least 12 children [in seven families], of the 19 children killed … contact with the perpetrator [the father] was arranged through the family courts.

“For six families, this contact was arranged in family court hearings [two of these were interim orders], and for one family, contact was decided as part of the arrangements for a non-molestation order and occupational order.”

Since its report on the child murders last year, Women’s Aid has identified another case in which a child was murdered by a father after being given contact via the family court. The charity is presenting their updated report to the prime minister in Downing Street on Monday.

Cobb also called for an end to the cross-examination of domestic violence victims by alleged perpetrators in court hearings, a practice banned in the criminal court. He said there needed to be “decisive action to cure this deeply unsatisfactory situation”.

Cobb’s reforms were endorsed on Friday by the President of the family division, Sir James Munby, who praised both Women’s Aid and the “hard hitting articles in the Guardian” for highlighting the issues.

The changes are contained in amendments to judicial guidance known as practice direction 12J. A key change announced by Cobb was that the presumption in the family court that there should be “contact at all costs” with both parents would be scrapped. He said it should be excluded in domestic violence cases where involvement of a parent in a child’s life would place the child or other parent at risk of harm.

He also said judges needed to be more alert to perpetrators of domestic violence using the courts as a way to continue their abuse. “Family court judges should be sure that they understand the new offence of coercion [controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship],” he said.

Cobb called for judges to be more alert to how violent men could use the access within the courts to assault their former partners, putting forward a proposal for courts to consider more carefully the waiting arrangements before a hearing, and arrangements for entering and exiting the court building.

Munby pointed out that austerity measures had impacted on courts’ ability to protect vulnerable witnesses. He said in his own court in the Royal Courts of Justice in London there was no safe waiting room and no video link.

“The problem, of course, is one of resources, and responsibility lies … ultimately with ministers. More, much more, needs to be done to bring the family courts up to an acceptable standard, indeed to match the facilities and ‘kit’ available in the crown court,” said Munby.

In his report on Friday, Cobb said it was essential that family court judges used the practice direction as it had been amended.

“By this report, I wish to highlight the concerns raised by Rights of Women, Women’s Aid … I hope that positive steps can now be taken to address in the family court the problem, long since addressed in the criminal court, of the alleged victims of domestic abuse being directly questioned by their unrepresented alleged abusers.”

Polly Neate, director of Women’s Aid, welcomed the changes. She said: “There should never be a presumption of contact where one parent is known to be a perpetrator of domestic abuse, as is made clear today.

“We urge the Family Procedure Rule Committee, and lord chancellor and secretary of state for justice, Liz Truss MP, to agree the new practice direction, with all of the changes set out by Mr Justice Cobb, without delay.”

The Ministry of Justice has indicated – following the articles in the Guardian and questions in parliament – that it is going to change the law to enforce a ban on direct cross-examination.

Originally published by The Guardian, 20 January 2017

Also see:

Review Of Practice Direction 12J FPR 2010 – Child Arrangement & Contact Orders: Domestic Violence & Harm

View From The President Of The Family Division, Sir James Munby