University of BristolImproving the justice and healthcare response for victims & survivors of gender based violence

Improving the justice and healthcare response for victims & survivors of gender based violence

Vital research conducted by Bristol’s School for Policy Studies and Bristol Medical School has influenced policy and improved support for victims-survivors of gender-based violence (GBV) in the UK and internationally.

Improving understanding of justice and promoting specialist support

The University of Bristol Centre for Gender and Violence Research is internationally recognised for its global influence on tackling GBV, including domestic and sexual violence, forced marriage and sexual exploitation, as well as its work on criminal and civil justice, social harms and trauma, disruption to perpetrators and empowerment of victims.

The term 'justice gap' is often used to refer to the dropping out of cases within the criminal justice system. However, research led by Professor Marianne Hester revealed a wider gap in understanding what justice means. Evidence published in over 20 papers, and including a rich dataset of qualitative survivor interviews, gave voice to over 1,600 victims-survivors to identify how justice was understood, sought and experienced, and consider the intersectionality of different forms of inequality and types of GBV. The study revealed inequalities in the criminal justice response, including underrepresentation of BME and LGBTQ+ groups and lack of criminal justice for the most vulnerable victims-survivors.

The findings informed the development of a justice toolkit that enables frontline specialist services to identify and measure wider forms of justice, such as perpetrator accountability and victim empowerment. It also highlighted the importance of empowerment through advocacy for victims-survivors, and the crucial role played by specialist support services, such as Independent Domestic Violence Advocates (IDVAs), in increasing the chance of conviction and narrowing the "justice gap." The evidence has informed recommendations to police forces in England and Wales, leading to changes in policy and healthcare practice.

Improving the healthcare response

Historically, healthcare providers have not been effective in responding to the needs of patients experiencing domestic violence and abuse (DVA), particularly GPs. The IRIS (Identification and Referral to Safety) trial led by Professor Gene Feder and Queen Mary University of London, evaluated a training and support program for General Practices to improve their response to DVA.

The trial showed that primary care staff training improves recorded identification of women experiencing domestic violence and referral to specialist domestic violence agencies, benefiting patients with a safer and more appropriate response by clinicians to disclosure of domestic violence. IRIS also reaches an older demographic of women who are less well represented in specialist DVA services, making it a positive feature of the programme that it is able to reach an otherwise invisible group of survivors.

The success of the IRIS approach has led to its recommendation in Government policy and health guidance in England and Wales, informing World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines and serving as an exemplar for similar initiatives globally.

Scaling up the solution

IRISi, a social enterprise established in 2017, aims to expand the IRIS programme and related research. It supports local implementation, develops evidence-based interventions for those affected by gender-based violence, and provides expert advice in the field of domestic violence and abuse.

Read the full story and find out more about Bristol’s latest research in this area.

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