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ISSUE 118: APRIL 2020

COVID-19 - IMPORTANT INFORMATION
 
This is a difficult time for all those experiencing and responding to VAWG. There are sudden changes and added pressures for those experiencing or at risk of VAWG. The situation is dynamic and changing rapidly, so we’re issuing a short update instead of the usual bulletin for April with links to further information.  Please circulate to your contacts and networks with an interest.

VAWG team update
 
Working together
 
The Scottish Government recognises the increased risk to victims of domestic abuse, gender-based violence and commercial sexual exploitation, including prostitution, as a result of social distancing, and the potential for disruption to support services provided by victim support organisations. We are working closely with victim support organisations and other justice stakeholders across the sector to understand the impact COVID-19 is having, and where additional support may be required. We have set up weekly calls with relevant organisations to share intelligence and good practice and identify any emerging issues which may affect service delivery.

Domestic Abuse Act

The first anniversary of the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018 falls tomorrow - 1 April. The legislation has been ground breaking, reflecting the full spectrum of abuse that a victim may suffer, creating a specific offense covering a “course of conduct”, and recognising the fact that children are harmed by domestic abuse. This has had a huge impact on public perceptions, victims and professionals working with victims. The Scottish Government are continuing efforts to ensure implementation of the Act is smooth and effective, and measure relevant impacts.

COSLA

COSLA is working in partnership with the Scottish Government to inform and support Councils’ in their implementation of  Equally Safe in local areas. The key COSLA contact for VAWG matters is Katie Brown katie@cosla.gov.uk.

Legislation

The Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill has been introduced to Parliament and it contains specific measures  relating to the Justice system.  The Bill as introduced, and the accompanying documents can be found here: https://www.parliament.scot/parliamentarybusiness/Bills/114929.aspx
 
In common with all the provisions in the Bill, the justice measures in the Scottish emergency coronavirus legislation are expressly temporary and, as currently drafted, will remain in place for 6 months, with a possible extension to two further periods of 6 months (18 months in total). The Bill also places a 2 monthly monitoring requirement on the use of the provisions.
 
The Justice provisions are intended to enable a response to the current situation whereby we have seen severe impacts on the operation of the system through a combination of the effects on our collective workforce and restrictions rightly imposed on the basis of the current public health advice. 
 
The main provisions are:
  • Powers to allow for solemn trials to be conducted by a judge/sheriff sitting alone without a jury.
  • Powers to allow for emergency release of prisoners.
  • Extension of time limits for completion of unpaid work and powers to postpone or vary community orders which become impossible to fulfil under current circumstances.
  • Management of community orders which become impossible to fulfil within existing parameters.
  • Addressing Legal Aid and Parole Board issues.
  • Practical steps such as extension of statutory time limits; national jurisdiction for custody courts; allowing more cases to be disposed of by fiscal fine rather than come to court; and extending allowance of hearsay evidence in cases where the witness is self-isolating.
  • Suspending the need for physical appearance; and removing barriers to using digital means, across both criminal and civil processes.
  • Ensuring flexibility as required within Youth Justice and Children’s Hearings processes.
Funding available

The Cabinet Secretary for Justice has announced a ‘victims fund’, administered by Victim Support Scotland, of £100,000 to support victims of crime struggling financially amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Individuals will be able to access assistance worth up to £3,000 to help meet immediate financial needs. Information can be found here: https://www.gov.scot/news/extra-support-for-crime-victims-during-pandemic/.
 
To support organisations to continue to provide access to the services which will remain vital to victims and witnesses during the COVID-19 outbreak, the Scottish Government has announced two funds: 
  • The £50m Wellbeing Fund will help charities and others which require additional capacity to work with at-risk people who may be worst affected by the crisis
  • The Third Sector Resilience Fund will support charities, voluntary organisations and social enterprises that already deliver vital services in communities that find themselves in financial difficulties directly as a result of the pandemic. The funding’s primary intention is to provide grants of between £5,000 and £100,000 and interest-free loans to help these organisations to stabilise and manage cash flows over this difficult period.
More information here.

Funding delivered

The First Minister and the Justice Secretary earlier announced that over £1.5m would be made available to Scottish Women's Aid and Rape Crisis Scotland to support the response to COVID.  Press release here.
 
Delivering Equally Safe Fund: deadline extended
 
The deadline for applications to the Delivering Equally Safe Fund (DES Fund)  has been extended until the end of June.  Recognising the challenges of the current context, this being kept under active review.
 
Court business
 
The Scottish Government has been working with the Lord President and Lord Advocate to ensure court business can continue as much as is practically possible in the context of Coronavirus. The Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service has provided an update on court arrangements.

Child contact

The Lord President has issued guidance on parental contact and family court orders, as follows:
  • If you and your partner live in separate homes but take turns to look after your children, you can continue to do this.
  • If there is a court order or formal agreement in place, you should try to stick to the arrangements it sets out unless both people with parental responsibilities and rights agree to vary it.
  • If you have a more informal arrangement with your partner or ex-partner, you’ll need to discuss what’s best for your kids.
  • If it's not possible to keep face to face contact you should try and maintain regular contact virtually using for example Face Time, WhatsApp or Skype.
The full guidance on compliance with family court orders can be found here: https://www.scotcourts.gov.uk/coming-to-court/attending-a-court/coronavirus
 
More at: Equally Safe Knowledge Hub.

Services and resources  

KHub info
 
The Improvement Service is gathering information on COVID-19 resources on Khub (which VAWG organisations can join).
 
CLiCK additional resources
 
The CLiCK project is developing a resource hub on its website with information to help reduce isolation and feelings of anxiety for women. The project is also increasing its online chat provision.
 
TARA
 
TARA continues to be contactable 24/7 by telephone only on 0141 276 7724.
 
From Friday 27 March it will provide a telephone support and advocacy service for women already engaged with the service. It will provide a face-to-face response to urgent cases or new referrals but this will be agreed on a case by case basis. It is unable to provide any training or awareness-raising sessions for now.
 
Scottish Women's Aid
 
SWA is acutely aware that the COVID-19 pandemic might cause increased anxiety in women experiencing domestic abuse as their routes to safety and support may be more limited. SWA is assisting the 36 local groups in a radical redesign of services to respond to the crisis, in line with government advice. Groups are still providing services. However, they are doing so by technology and phones, rather than face-to-face support. Anyone seeking support should still contact their local Women's Aid group in the first instance. Contact details on the SWA website. Scotland's Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage Helpline remains fully operational and available 24/7 on 0800 027 1234 and email and web chat at www.sdafmh.org.uk.
 
Rape Crisis Helpline: plus new textline
 
The RCS Helpline 08088 01 03 02 and support@rapecrisisscotland.org.uk is open from 6pm to midnight, 7 days a week, and offers free and confidential initial and crisis support and information. The helpline can also put people in touch with local rape crisis centres or other services for ongoing support. The helpline can arrange for language interpreters for those whose first language is not English.
 
In response to COVID-19, it is running a textline alongside the helpline to make it as easy as possible for anyone affected by sexual violence to get in touch: 07537 410027.
 
Local rape crisis centres are still running services, with modifications: check with individual centres as required.
 
Scottish Women's Rights Centre

 
To keep women informed about changes to the justice system, SWRC is publishing updates and answers to frequent asked questions. It has compiled a list of services supporting women who are experiencing abuse.
 
Legal and advocacy services operating as usual with some adjustments.
 
Helplines: 08088 010 789:
 
Legal information
Monday: 2 to 5pm
Tuesday: 6 to 8pm
Wednesday: 11am to 2pm
Friday: 10am to 1pm
 
Advocacy support
Tuesday: 11am to 2pm
 
Sexual harassment
Thursday: 5 to 8pm
 
Surgeries: appointments available  for legal advice by video call.
 
Legal representation: still taking on cases. Women can apply for legal representation here.
 
ASSIST service
 
ASSIST workers are continuing to support victims and children by working from home. They are responding to new referrals from Police Scotland and other agencies (including self-referrals and MARAC referrals) if the victim has reported to the police and there is a court process. Workers are also supporting existing clients to risk assess, safety plan and to provide information to partners and processes where appropriate. ASSIST has suspended its face-to-face support for children and young people which includes court support on the day of trial but will continue to provide telephone support to children and young people and their carers wherever possible. You can contact ASSIST on 0141 2767710 and you will be asked to leave a message which will be relayed to the appropriate person or email ASSIST@glasgow.gov.uk (from a secure server only).
 
Safe & Together Institute: support offered
 
The Safe & Together Institute is providing critical and useful information, and virtual options for training and support including: It wants to support practitioners and direct service agencies by using its global network to gather and disseminate information. It wants to hear from you about how domestic violence dynamics are changing in this context, what challenges you are facing as practitioners, and how you are adapting to and overcoming these barriers. Let Anna Mitchell know and she will pass it along to the team. This will help with writing blogs, developing podcasts and offering other forms of support. If there is anything specific you'd like Safe and Together to do to support you please contact annamitchell@safeandtogetherinstitute.com
 
Amina
 
Amina MWRC's staff are working from home and aiming to run its services in new ways. Its helpline and related chat service are running at the usual times of 10am to 4pm on weekdays to provide a listening ear to Muslim and BME women who are isolated or facing a crisis. Its Ending Violence Against Women work is shifting to video conferencing. It has held its first video chat with women in Edinburgh about the coercive control legislation. If your staff team would like a video conference with its trainers to learn about how violence against women can affect Muslim and BME women, please get in touch on info@mwrc.org.uk
 
SafeLives
 
Resources for professionals supporting those experiencing domestic abuse during this time and online community.
 
Surviving Economic Abuse
 
Coronavirus guidance from SEA.
 
Mental wellbeing
 
Information from SAMH on mental health and wellbeing to support professionals, service users and anyone else.
 
Children and young people
 
Resources to support children and young people from Young Scot and Young Minds UK.
 
Human rights and equality considerations in responding to Coronavirus
 
EHRC article highlighting possible impact of pandemic-related restrictions on already disadvantaged people, for example ASN pupils and families, and likely increase in domestic abuse.
 
Recommendations for self-isolating feminists
 
If you find yourself with some free time, check out the Zero Tolerance list of feminist books, films and documentaries to distract yourselves with: https://www.zerotolerance.org.uk/news/blog/recommendations-for-self-isolating-feminists---saffrons-picks/

National VAW network update
 
VAW organisations interested in the work of the network are invited to join its KHub Group. There is also a monthly network newsletter which highlights new content on the KHub and other network news. More information: visit the Improvement Service website or contact Joanna.McLaughlin@improvementservice.org.uk
 
2020 intended meeting schedule:
 
27 April, Edinburgh
24 June, Glasgow
24 August, Edinburgh
28 October, Glasgow
14 December, Edinburgh
 
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