Written evidence submitted by Stay Safe East (VIC0059)

Stay Safe East is a user-led ‘by and for’ organisation with 12 years’ experience working with disabled /survivors of hate crime, domestic and sexual abuse, as well as institutional, financial and carer abuse and cuckooing. www.staysafe-east.org.uk. We have a national policy role and have become an expert ‘go to’ organization for the Ministry or Justice and Home Office on issues for disabled survivors. We are currently engaged on MoJ commissioned research on the experiences of disabled victims of rape, and working with the Home Office and DH&SC on the review of abuse of disabled people by non-family carers. We submitted a comprehensive response to the Victims Bill consultation[1] which members may wish to refer to in their consideration of the Victims Bill.

Context: disabled victims of crime

The UK’s 14.1 Million disabled people are amongst the groups most affected by crime, and in particular violent crime against the person, but are least likely to report or to get a conviction. Disabled women are 2 to 3 times more likely to be victims of domestic abuse, and twice as likely as non-disabled women to be victims of sexual violence. Abuse by paid or unpaid carers, abuse within institutional settings is under-reported and difficult for victims to report. Disabled victims face multiple barriers to safety, justice and recovery, from lack of access to disbelief to the failure of the adult safeguarding system to protect themThis is evidenced in our response to Government’s Consultation on the Victims Bill, as well as in our response to the Home Consultation on the Violence against Women and Girls Strategy[2].

Stay Safe East’s recommendations

Stay Safe East welcomes the Victims Bill and the proposal to ‘enshrine the overarching principles of the Victims’ Code in primary legislation but believes that it could go further in enhancing the rights of disabled and other victims. We have put forward a number of recommendations for the Victims Bill, which we will shortly be seeking to present as amendments to the Bill. Our main recommendations are outlined below. Further recommendations which can be found in our response to the Bill.

  1. A statutory right of victims to access

Some adjustments such as the rights to an intermediary are in the Victims Code but currently rarely used. Disabled and other victims of crime (e.g. migrant victims or those with English as a second language) are severely disadvantaged in accessing justice by the lack of accessible information, communication support and physical access to buildings or facilities. In this context, disabled and other victims have fewer rights than suspects, who have some basic rights under PACE, for example to an interpreter. The Equality Act is generic and offers insufficient protection in the specific context of the criminal justice system. Stay Safe East is recommending that the Victims Bill enshrines a Statutory Duty on the Criminal Justice System to assess and meet a victim’s access, support and communication needs. This would be defined in guidance and might include:

  1. A right to accessible information in the format of choice of the victim: accessible copy of the victim’s initial statement or updates on progress of the case ( this may be a simple verbal communication, repeated if needed). Here, we signpost to the Victims’ Commissioner’s call for an Easy Read, BSL and spoken language editions of the Victims’ Code[3].
  2. A right to communication support (Sign Language, spoken community language, speech-to-text reporter etc.) at all stages of the criminal justice system from initial interview to court and beyond
  3. A right to be referred to physical accessibility: referral to an accessible police station or court and if necessary to make a statement/give evidence court remotely or if appropriate from the person’s home or another venue of their choice. 
  4. A right to facilities such as more frequent breaks, an accessible toilet, suitable seating, an induction loop or to be in a quiet room that does not trigger sensory overload.

We are aware that such as provision would require additional resources, and are therefore suggesting that a designated inclusion fund be set up for criminal justice agencies to resource the right to access.

  1. The right to support from an independent advocate for victims of interpersonal crime throughout the criminal justice process

Stay Safe East employs IDVAs, hate crime advocates and the UK’s only Disability Independent Victim’s Advocate (IVA). The presence of an IDVA or ISVA is mostly accepted and welcomed by the Police and the courts, but the role of IVAs and hate crime advocates is rarely recognised or accepted. Evidence shows that the support of an IDVA or ISVA makes a conviction more likely, as the victim continues to engage with the CJS, receive information and emotional support from the advocate, who also helps the police and courts communicate with the victim. In some cases they work alongside a Registered Intermediary, who has a different role. Victims of hate crime and other serious abuse have similar needs to those of rape or domestic abuse victims.

In this context, Stay Safe East would also recommend that multi-agency bodies such as community MARACs and hate crime panels should have the same status as domestic abuse MARACs, and should be established in every local authority. This would help keep victims safe. 

  1. A Statutory Duty on adult safeguarding to refer any disabled victim of domestic abuse subject to MARAC or to an IDVA or other specialist advocate

Currently there is a lack of synchronicity between MARACs and adult safeguarding. This duty would mean that disabled people covered by the Care Act would have access to the same safety measures and support as non-disabled victims of domestic abuse. We have also made recommendations to curb poor practice within adult safeguarding such as inviting the abuser to safeguarding meetings, or communicating with family members without the victim’s consent.

  1. A clear pathway to safety and support for victims of institutional abuse, including access to an independent advocate

There is much wider work to do to address the failure of the safeguarding system to protect disabled victims of crime and abuse in care settings. We have set out further proposals in our response to the Victims Bill.  We have highlighted this specific recommendation as it would help enhance the rights of victims abused in care settings. At present, victims of abuse within care settings only have a right to independent advocacy if they lack capacity or are detained under the Mental Health Act, and advocates for these settings are rarely specialist in working with victims of abuse. A disabled person abused in a care home should have the same access to independent advocacy and support as a victim of domestic abuse at home. This is complex work that may require the advocate to be involved for at least a year, but often much longer to ensure not only that the person is safe, but that they are able to cope and recover, and to exercise their choices and independence to the maximum of their ability. The Victims Bill could pave the way for the development of a new role of Independent Victims Advocate in care settings.    

June 2022

[1] https://www.staysafe-east.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/FINAL-VERSION-Stay-Safe-East-response-to-Victims-Bill-consultation-February-2022.pdf

[2] https://staysafe-east.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/Stay-Safe-East-response-to-the-Home-Office-VAWG-Strategy-2021-25-14-pt.pdf

[3] https://victimscommissioner.org.uk/our-work/briefings/victims-law/equality-considerations/