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Court retraumatises DA victims, report finds

Urgent action is required to clear case backlogs and improve the way courts deal with domestic abuse survivors, according to an investigation Safelives carried out for domestic abuse commissioner Nicole Jacobs.

The resulting report, Understanding Court Support for Victims of Domestic Abuse, revealed 89% of survivors receive no support in family courts.

Also, one in five of independent domestic violence advisors (IDVAs) is blocked from entering court, partly because of objections by perpetrators or court officials including judges. Yet the report found the intervention which improved survivors’ experience of going through the courts was dedicated IDVA support.

The coronavirus pandemic has made the situation worse because case backlogs are running into at least 2022.

One survivor told Safelives’ researchers: “The family court process has left me severely traumatised, worse than the DV itself. I was belittled, undermined, exposed to my abusive ex repeatedly, my children were not listened to and it felt like father’s rights trumped mine and negated his history of DV. I’ve never been more frightened and alone in my life.”

Commissioner Jacobs is calling for urgent long-term funding and more dedicated specialist court support, with IDVAs as an integral part of the family courts and the criminal justice system.

The report recommended all courts are “trauma-informed” and cultural change programmes introduced for all professionals involved to improve understanding of domestic abuse and coercive control.

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