Money worries often ‘a barrier’ to victims leaving their abusers
MONEY worries and the loss of residency rights are not only barriers to domestic-abuse victims leaving a relationship, they are also a major reason why so many return to toxic relationships, a support worker has said.
The States police, charities, politicians and experts have said that Jersey’s housing system is a major barrier to victims getting help. Currently, only Islanders who have been in the Island for five years can access income support. Only entitled Islanders – those born here or who have lived here for ten years – can apply for social housing.
It means many victims who have ‘registered’ status face the prospect of having to live in private accommodation and find work in low-paid industries after leaving abusive relationships, if they lived in the Island for less than ten or five years respectively.
But one victim who suffered domestic abuse at the hands of her ex-husband has said her situation was different. The woman, who has asked not to be named, said that in her relationship she was the one who had the housing qualifications and that her abusive partner would use that fact to manipulate her into staying with him, arguing that he would lose his job if she left.
Today, Carly Lucas, an independent domestic violence adviser, said many victims were unaware of what support they could access. Mrs Lucas is one of five Islanders, including three police officers and the head of the Island’s sexual assault referral centre, who have been trained to deliver a course by UK charity SafeLives to police officers and staff to help them identify the signs of abuse as early as possible.
On average it takes more than 30 incidents of abuse before a victim will seek help.
Mrs Lucas said: ‘Financial and economic issues are a barrier to victims of domestic abuse coming forward for support. They are also a barrier to people leaving and a driver behind people returning to abusive relationships. Without access to finances people lack options and the freedom to make choices. In a relationship where there has been financial abuse, a victim will often be prevented from accessing finances, so to make the decision to leave will often mean literally walking away with nothing. This is an incredibly scary, isolating place to be and it takes a huge amount of courage to take that step forward.’
Assistant Chief Minister Chris Taylor said the government’s priority was to help victims find immediate places of safety and ‘short-term emergency support’.
In a statement, he said: ‘Longer-term support through income support and social housing is dependent on a number of factors, including length of residency and whether dependants are involved. Within existing laws ministers have the legislative powers to make decisions which fall outside of current policies in exceptional circumstances. These include, but are not limited to: victims of domestic abuse, serious accidents, critical illness and the death of a partner. The needs of the whole household, including any children, will always be taken into account. These are always difficult decisions as they must be evaluated in the context of the needs of residentially qualified Islanders.’
According to UK statistics, women were around twice as likely to have experienced domestic abuse than men (7.9% compared with 4.2%). There are an estimated 1.3 million female victims in the UK, while male victims of domestic abuse are believed to number around 695,000.
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