Agenda item

Violence against Women and Girls

This report provides PAC Members with the opportunity to scrutinise the council’s approach to responding to and preventing Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) in H&F. In particular this, report focuses on the support services provided to women and girls experiencing domestic abuse.


Council’s strategy on Violence Against Women and Girls – Beth Morgan

Councillor Nikos Souslous welcome Beth Morgan and a range of organisations who kindly contributed to the discussion.   The council’s response to Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) has been a key administration commitment and 2021 saw the appointment of Annabel Moores, Violence Against Women and Girls Lead followed by the publication of the council’s coproduced VAWG strategy 2022-25 in March 2022 setting out a five year action plan (included in the agenda pack).  A fundamental aspect of the work was that it adopted a co-ordinated community response incorporating multiple agency support involving all partners and not just the council in tackling offences.  Focusing on the three key elements of refuge and safe accommodation, commissioning of domestic abuse support services (Angelou Partnership) and survivor consultation (Women and Girls Network) the approach emphasised collaborative engagement between partners in addition to placing survivor engagement at the heart of the commissioning process.  Performance monitoring data was appended to the report.  


Beth Morgan also announced that since the publication of the agenda the Greater London Authority Domestic Abuse Safe Accommodation Fund had verbally confirmed funding in H&F for 2023/24. 


Consideration of the report by the Committee had been timed to coincide with the annual, international 16 days of activism event which would run from 25 November – 10 December 2022.  This aimed to highlight gender-based violence, and this year also overlapped with the commencement of the men’s football World Cup.  High profile football tournaments and similar events unfortunately often also recorded a spike in domestic abuse offenses.  Local events to mark the 16 days of activism had been scheduled and a final list would shortly be confirmed.  These included a workshop on allyship and bystander intervention looking at the role of the community in tackling abuse against women and girls, particularly in the public realm. Webinars for practitioners were also planned which aimed to raise awareness of harmful practices, the “Ask Angela” scheme was being further promoted with licensed premises across the borough and the council was also hosting an event in solidarity with women in Iran.  A communications campaign to raise awareness about VAWG services was also being implemented.


Advance – Laura Dix

Laura Dix outlined the work of the organisation, established in 1998, with their main offices located in H&F.  The two key aims of the charity were to support women who had experienced domestic abuse and who also had experience of navigating the criminal justice system, often there was a crossover with women going through both experiences.  The Angelou Partnership worked as a consortium of organisations, which included Advance, to collectively support women and girls who experienced domestic violence and abuse (DVA).  Advance consisted of independent domestic violence advisors who worked with women aged 13 plus.  Typically, advisors worked with individuals for about 3-6 months, walking alongside the person during what was potentially the most challenging time in their lives and complemented by specialist advisors providing support on mental health and substance misuse. The consortium consisted of a range of partners with different areas of expertise and the aim was to offer provision according to need.  Solace Women’s Aid supported women and girls who had experienced sexual violence, Galop provided advocacy and casework support for LGBT+ people who experienced abuse and violence. Al-Hasaniya, was a Moroccan Women’s Centre serving the health, welfare, educational and cultural needs of Moroccan and Arabic-speaking women and their families, and IKWRO, Iranian and Kurdish Women’s Rights Organisation, worked to combat discrimination and violence against women and girls. 


Laura Dix described the referral service offered and how the organisation could be contacted by women or practitioners, with access to tailored support across the consortium based on need, signposted and supported in accessing provision.  An increase in domestic abuse cases had been observed as increasing throughout the period of the pandemic with significant casework pressures arising from waiting lists with mental health being a related factor and demand for therapeutic support which was oversubscribed.   The cost of living crisis was also having a significant impact and an impediment as women struggled to meet the cost of public transport to attend advice centres, one solution for which was online provision to improve accessibility.


Women and Girls Network – Dr Akima Thomas

Dr Akima Thomas outlined the work of the WGN, which was currently responsible for conducting a consultation, details of which had been previously circulated to the committee and commended by Councillor Souslous.  Based in H&F and established for 32 years the organisation delivered a London-wide, integrated provision of services which included individual and group therapeutic services.  This also included a specialist sexual violence advisory team, and a West London Rape Crises service, which was open to all survivors of sexual violence.  In addition to these core services, Dr Thomas commended the council for commissioning the organisation to develop the consultation which intended to support survivors by developing an independent advisory panel to include the voices of vulnerable and marginalised communities.  A better understanding of the survivors’ experience could then help shape future provision. An added layer of accountability and transparency would also strengthen policy and commissioning decisions.  The opportunity to create greater equity by including the survivors’ voice and doing so at a strategic level was a bold approach, which also facilitated an intersectional exploration of those communities and women who did not come forward to access survivor and VAWG services.


Acknowledging the inherent difficulties in navigating the criminal justice system, Councillor Andrew Dinsmore commended the work and asked contributors if they had observed any improvement in the past 12-14 years.  Dr Thomas responded that any improvement had been negated by the pandemic and further deteriorated as a consequence.  Survivors of sexual violence currently waited for about 5 years for a court date which was described as horrendous.  A significant amount of work and resources were required to improve police and Crown Prosecution Service support, and, despite changes to the law, any therapeutic notes still required disclosure as the case proceeded through the courts. Laura Dix explained that it was hard for women to disclose sexual DVA, and difficult to ascertain risk the from family members due to coercion.  Experiences were disclosed as a result of developing trust which was fragile.  There was much work to be done at a societal level and a longer term approach was required to embed, develop and sustain services.  Recognising the potentially devastating consequences for survivors when a trial collapsed, Laura Dix added her personal view that jurors be offered training on understanding DVA.


Beth Morgan added that barriers included the common and sometimes mistaken perception that sexual abuse was perpetrated by a stranger rather than a family member, a narrative that made it harder for a woman to disclose sexual and violent abuse.  In terms of holding perpetrators to account, it was explained that operational groups consisting of multiagency representatives did view accessibility to the criminal justice system and retain oversight of the system.  H&F had also commissioned the Impact project, a co-located project working with women who were engaging with the criminal justice system in relation to DVA court cases.  Training was also offered to police officers as part of the project to help them to understand the complexities.  Looking forward, the intention was to grow the project by working with perpetrators and undertake early prevention work.


Councillor Miri thanked the organisations for the work being undertaken and observed that while it was obviously right that VAWG focused on women and girls, he asked what the long term solution would be to prevent DVA from occurring, for example, by offering education for young people or outreach work in schools and communities, and how cultural barriers could be overcome.  Dr Thomas replied that this was a broad and difficult question to answer, however, it linked to understanding the roots of violence, the impact of social inequality and coercive power, and how the community could respond to this through either legislative sanctions, or education by raising awareness and preventative work, both of which were key.  Societal change in terms of addressing the gender power imbalance was required at a basic level, and needed to be tackled with resources.  The lack of progress in the criminal justice system was frustrating but some fundamental societal changes were required to improve equity. 


Laura Dix concurred with Dr Thomas’s view and stated that a multipronged approach centred around prevention was important in tackling the social narrative in popular culture and the media around “possessing” a partner.  She advocated the need for raising awareness in schools as one way of tackling this at source.  The work undertaken by WGN and similar organisations was very hard, and whilst the commendations, support and acknowledgement of the great results achieved in supporting women were welcome, these were gendered crimes rooted in inequality and prevention was the key.  


Beth Morgan agreed that gendered-based prevention work was fundamental, together with health focused work, requiring a community coordinated response with zero tolerance of gender based violence.  Changing challenging behaviour and defining the role of men as allies was gaining traction, together with bystander intervention as there were small actions that communities could collectively undertake to positively intervene.  Anticipated specialist project work with young people was about early intervention so that challenging behaviour traits could be addressed early on before issues escalated.


Sarah Lumgair described the work of People Arise Now with those who have experienced DVA and one of the barriers highlighted has been the need to recount their experiences on multiple occasions to multiple people and she asked if there was a way to limit this to one initial statement that could be shared across services.  Dr Thomas concurred that this would be the ideal but recognised the limitations of this as each service operated with different remits.  For example, a survivor may present at WGN initially, and an advisor would collect and capture information about their case, which might not have been reported so that there was a potential safeguarding issue to consider.  As the person moved to counselling services, Dr Thomas hoped that a second retelling did not fundamentally re-traumatise the individual and might even be beneficial for some, at a therapeutic level. One of the ways in which a survivor could tell their story was not about interrogating the truth of their experience and what had happened but was more reflective.  The difficulty was that not all services were equipped to respond appropriately.


Laura Dix agreed and continued that one of the benefits of the Angelou Partnership was oversight from a range of organisation collaborating within the partnership with one “front door” access to all of the organisations using one referral form.   This was not the case previously where an individual might have had to approach one organisation, been assessed for an hour, and then referred on to another more suitable service and then have to retell their story again. A person now received a short, initial assessment and then be referred to the most appropriate services.  The Angelou Partnership was relatively unique in offering this innovative and forward thinking approach.  Advance was often contacted by women who sought a letter of support about their circumstances from a GP, family court or social housing service and this was provided based on the notes of their particular case history.   Beth Morgan concurred and recognised that as service providers, the complexities of some systems were an added burden that could be improved upon by removing barriers through simplifying organisational structures and processes, supporting a woman through their journey.


Councillor Souslous welcomed the comments, acknowledging that the removal of barriers to ease access to services, and to reduce the impact and trauma as consequence of a woman having to retell their story was an important priority.  Councillor Rebecca Harvey recounted her experience of the advice sector, where individuals were provided with a letter explaining the reason why they had sought advice or support and outlining what had been offered to them as next steps.  This was valuable as it empowered the person to take ownership of the systems they were navigating.


A further question from Sarah Lumgair sought to understand whether restorative justice was facilitated by any of the organisations, particularly where a person needed support in navigating the criminal justice system.  Beth Morgan responded a that a fuller response to this question would be more helpful and offered to follow up after the meeting.


Councillor Dinsmore was interested to understand what challenging or misogynistic behaviour in school age pupils looked like and the preventative measures could be implemented to counteract this. Beth Morgan explained there was a new initiative being rolled out in schools led by Children’s Services called the Bambu project.  Funded by the VRU, details about the two year project were provided, to be delivered by Domestic Violence Intervention Project and Rise Mutual and that further information about this could be provided. 


Councillor Souslous asked the organisations what achievements they were most proud of, what they might do if offered the resources and what could the council do more of to assist.  Dr Thomas responded that the establishment of an independent advisory panel was their greatest achievement.  It represented a healing arc, beginning with a woman entering a service and realising the ambitions of empowerment and co-production.  The testimony of survivors could support other survivors, raising awareness for better resources and access to services, greater capacity, more training and specialisms such as the Indigo project supporting survivors with mental health and complex needs.  A more holistic approach was sought encompassing group work and therapy to support survivors in services that could be collocated long term, moving them forward from surviving trauma to thriving. Dr Thomas commended H&F for the work undertaken to date, but more commitment was needed that extended beyond scope of investment with a greater focus on VAWG, both in terms of allyship and accountability, and prevention work.


Laura Dix described their biggest achievement as having staff across the Angelou Partnership uniting in response to the pandemic to support survivors, supporting women who were “locked” up in their own homes, hearing difficult stories and still working and supporting each other as a team, and as part of the consortium partnership.  More resourcing and investment were needed to support community based prevention work, and to support women the first time that they disclosed their trauma.  The right response from the community then would access the right support from services.  The inclusion of the item on the agenda was commended and there was encouragement for this focus to continue.


From a local authority perspective, Beth Morgan was most proud of how VAWG had become a key priority across the organisation, extending it beyond a community safety issue and encompassing other services such as children’s and environment (housing) and she hoped that this would continue.  Offering refuge and safe accommodation was key and her vision for utilising unlimited resources was to see the provision of more self-contained and accessible housing provision.


Due to technical issues Martina Palmer’s contribution was communicated by Caterina Giammarresi.  Refuge provided DVA support through the Damascus refuge provision, supporting women with children who were fleeing their homes.  Crises accommodation was provided to support them initially and to enable them to move onto living independently.  The achievement that they were most proud of was to give women a voice, to empower them to be at the forefront of developing survivor services.  This not only reflected the way in which provision was delivered but also informed Crises Intervention support and wider lobbying campaigns.  Refuge’s most recent campaign had successfully lobbied for a change in law making it illegal to threaten to share intimate images, a serious issue in DVA relationships.  This had been supported by coproduction work with survivors, amplifying their concerns and voices.  In terms of future work, Martina Palmer echoed the comments of other contributors regarding the need for greater resources and access to safe and suitable accommodation nationally.  Access to employment opportunities to ensure independence was another issue and also linked to housing, making it difficult for women to move forward.  This, combined meeting the different needs of children that were also affected meant that women remained in refuges for longer because there was nowhere for them to move onto.  Addressing mental health needs post pandemic had become harder as there was extensive waiting time to access therapeutic support services. 


Councillor Souslous apologised sincerely to contributors who had joined online for the technical difficulties experienced and invited them to provide any further comments or questions which could be responded to following the meeting.  Councillor Patricia Quigley sought further information and clarification regarding the responsible dog ownership PSPO (public space protection order) consultation and why an “easy read” version of the consultation document was not offered, to be provided following the meeting. 


Councillor Souslous thanked all of contributors for their attendance and participation and the following actions were noted:




1.     For the Community Safety Manager to share details about restorative justice facilitators and how this provision was delivered;

2.     For the Community Safety Manger to share information about a new Children’s Services initiative tackling challenging or misogynistic behaviours in schools; and

3.     With regards to Agenda Item 4, Annual Performance Report for the Law Enforcement Team, the Assistant Director for Community Safety to provide a response as to why an easy read document was not offered as part of the PSPO consultation.




That report and actions were noted.


Supporting documents: