Oxford City Council has undertaken an extensive review of the role it plays in preventing and mitigating the effects of domestic abuse against women.
A recently released report by the cross-party Domestic Abuse Review Group (DARG) explores ideas on key issues concerning how the council can contribute towards reducing the impact of domestic abuse when it occurs, but also taking steps to prevent it from happening in the first place.
Commissioned by the council’s Scrutiny Committee, the report is based on a wide range of evidence and extensive engagement with numerous stakeholders. Its conclusions and recommendations have been put before the cabinet, the council’s main decision making body.
Key themes and questions
Between November 2020 and February 2021, DARG met eight times. Informed by evidence provided by 15 external guests and Council officers, as well as a number of written internal and external reports and presentations, the review group explored key themes and questions including:
- What support is available for those suffering domestic abuse?
- What good practice can we take from other local authorities?
- What issues arise for those fleeing domestic abuse in regards to housing; how does the Council address those needs?
- What are the specific challenges faced by members of BAME communities who are victims of domestic abuse?
- What changes internally can the Council make to ensure that it is a supportive working environment for those experiencing domestic abuse?
Consultation, empowerment and definition
The report’s recommendations focus on supporting women to be empowered to exercise their rights to live free from abuse.
From the outset, the review group also stressed the importance of establishing a clear definition of domestic abuse in order to ensure the report’s recommendations extend to the support of women experiencing, or who have survived, abuse other than violence in a domestic context.
The local picture
Oxfordshire Domestic Abuse Service which provides refuge provision, helpline and outreach workers have seen an increase in calls for their service over the last year. Reducing the Risk, the local charity responsible for providing advocates (IDVAs) to those who have been assessed as being at the highest risk of harm from domestic abuse have also seen a significant increase. Victims at high risk account for approximately 10% of all cases within the city. Approximately 2000 calls are made to the Police relating to domestic abuse each year in Oxford.
Research revealed that the biggest challenges reported by those experiencing or fleeing domestic abuse in Oxford are access to safe and stable housing and a lack of available translation services where English is Second language (ESOL).
It also found that BAME communities face additional challenges, particularly around professional’s perceptions, lack of understanding of their specific needs and poor communication. It also examined the enormous difficulties faced by those with insecure immigration status and no recourse to public funds.
The report makes a number of recommendations to upskill professionals to respond appropriately in supporting people to overcome the necessary hurdles to escape domestic abuse.
Housing requirement and flexibility
Access to secure move-on accommodation is vital to women experiencing abuse. This is an area where some councils can struggle to be sufficiently flexible in providing this.
The Review Group makes a number of specific recommendations to offer more choice to victims, for housing to be provided in ways which reflect the urgency of the situation and where possible remove the perpetrator.
It also recommends that the Council seeks Domestic Abuse Housing Alliance (DAHA) accreditation of its housing services. This places housing provision where domestic abuse occurs at the centre of housing policy. It gives housing providers, including local authorities, the opportunity to benchmark their own provision against best practice for domestic abuse victims in the areas of:
- Policies & Procedures
- Case Management
- Risk Management
- Inclusivity & Accessibility
- Perpetrator Management
- Partnership Working
- Training which seeks to put the needs of victims to stabilise and rebuild at the centre of housing policy and processes.
ESOL and lack of public funding
Issues around ESOL and immigration status are more difficult for the Council to improve because of national policy, but the Review Group makes recommendations to improve access to translation services, and to investigate additional ways of supporting those with no recourse to public funds.
Anyone can experience domestic abuse
In November 2020, the council took the decision to institute a Domestic Abuse Policy which supports its own staff. The Review Group makes recommendations about how to make that more effective.
“In the UK, two women are dying every week due to violence carried out by an intimate partner or a former partner. At the same time, the criminal justice system is seeing a backlog of cases with victims and survivors of sexual assault having to wait longer than ever to access justice and support. For many the barriers and challenges to justice are insurmountable and unaffordable.
“This review is particularly timely. Not only has Covid-19 increased rates of domestic abuse nationally, raising its profile, but central government is also in the process of passing the Domestic Abuse Bill, which at present excludes those with no recourse to public funds. The Domestic Abuse Bill does, however, further increase exposure of the issue and create important opportunities for change.
“The Review Group is proud of the work that the Council has undertaken to date for survivors of domestic abuse. It hopes through this Review Group it can maintain Oxford’s place in the vanguard of support for domestic abuse survivors and those experiencing violence against women and girls, and make improvements for the most vulnerable women and people impacted by domestic abuse.”
Councillor for Rose Hill and Iffley and the council's race and equalities champion Shaista Aziz, who acted as the Chair of DARG.
If you are experiencing domestic abuse, or worried about someone else who is, you can call Oxfordshire Domestic Abuse Service helpline: 0800 731 0055. The service supports both female and male callers.
People can also call the 24-hour National Domestic Abuse Helpline: 0808 2000 247. This service supports females only.
If you are in immediate as a result of domestic abuse, or suspect someone else is, dial 999 straight away and wait in a safe place for the police to arrive.