Putting survivors back in the centre of the anti-violence movement

Date: November 11, 2010
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Girls and women who have survived violence are increasingly marginalised and silenced by the very services set up to support them, say Sophie Taylor and Davina James-Hanman from the AVA Project
The movement to stop violence against women and girls was instigated and led by survivors, determined that others should not suffer as they did. As the women’s movement grew in the 1970s, consciousness-raising groups allowed women to discuss their experiences with each other and share the reality of their lives; this process gave women the opportunity to see connections between their experiences and to begin to identify these as systemic discrimination rather than as individual failings.

Gradually, survivors began using their experiences to initiate positive change. They created organisations, started services, raised awareness, instigated campaigns and got an ear to government. Until the early 1990s, very few paid roles existed within the sector (and most of these were as refuge or rape crisis centre workers), and it was still a very survivor-led movement.

However, as the issue began moving up the political agenda, especially in the past decade, jobs began to be created that no longer required grassroots experience. Specific roles were created within local authorities, the police and other statutory services where personal experience was not valued as an attribute for any candidate.

During this time, government increasingly put pressure on voluntary sector agencies to ‘professionalise’, which has delivered some positive developments: it has led to the creation of quality standards, accredited training and greater transparency.

In some cases it has increased the influence the VAWG (violence against women and sirls) sector has had on policy development and led to greater acceptance of VAWG sector staff as equal partners with professional expertise. However, these advances cannot necessarily be attributed to ‘professionalisation’ and the changes are not consistent in all areas. Moreover, study after research study has shown that the majority of survivors’ poor experiences of services is within the statutory sector, upon whom there has been little similar pressure to ‘professionalise’.

But to what extent have these changes benefited survivors? Over time it appears that survivors have become less involved in the processes that are there to provide services for them. A poll we conducted at AVA (Against Violence and Abuse) during summer 2010 asked practitioners who deliver VAWG services about the level to which survivors are involved in their work: 43% stated that survivors were either not involved or consulted but as a cosmetic exercise; only 4% stated that survivors were given genuine influence in service design and development; and 9% gave survivors opportunities to scrutinise and hold services to account.

To read the full essay click the attachment below.

Publisher: Against Violence and Abuse
Year of Publication: 2010
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