Working with domestic abuse victims in the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller community

For the first time the Traveller Movement has a specialist dedicated Women’s Development and Advocacy Support worker to tackle issues including domestic abuse in the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller community.

We spoke to Aoife about the work they are doing and the need for ‘by and for support’ to offer specialist help and understanding to those impacted by domestic abuse in the traveller community.

Can you tell me a bit about your professional background?

I’ve always cared about feminism and gender inequality. In my undergraduate degree in Criminology and my MSc Politics of Conflicts, Rights and Justice, I focused on gender and gender-based violence. I’ve worked on consent workshops; run sexual violence campaigns and I volunteer with the Women’s Aid national helpline in Ireland. 

Can you tell me a bit about your role?

I am the Women’s Development and Advocacy Support Officer. Although Traveller’s Movement has been engaged in women’s work for over 10 years, my role is new and funded by MOPAC (the London Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime).

When it comes to domestic abuse, we see that there are problems in relation to accessibility, support and trust in services.

I was hired to develop resources for a women’s microsite to make services more accessible to Gypsy, Roma and Traveller (GRT) women – specifically around domestic abuse, healthy relationships, safety planning, parenting, cooking, etc.

Today we have launched a Good Practice Guide for statutory and non-statutory domestic abuse service providers working with the GRT community.

Can you tell me about what you do?

Although we are primarily a policy and campaigning organisation, we provide advocacy support around discrimination, hate crime, domestic abuse and education issues. We have a domestic abuse helpline for GRT women and our Women’s Worker offers emotional and practical support through this pan-UK service. 

We also deliver domestic abuse awareness training to explore the barriers to engagement and how to combat these in practice. This training is led by Irish Traveller women with lived experience of domestic abuse.

For the 16 Days of Action, we held one screening of our unreleased film about domestic abuse ‘Never Going to Beat You’ and you can watch the trailer here: ‘Never Going To Beat You’ film trailer.

As COVID-19 interrupted our launch plans, we are hoping to re-launch this film later this year.

Can you tell me about domestic abuse within the traveller community – is it a big problem?

Domestic abuse is a big problem in every community. The UK has described the levels of violence against women and girls as ‘endemic’. The unique dynamics at play in GRT communities revolve around the limited access to support and services. Mainstream domestic abuse services and local authorities are often unaware of the needs of GRT survivors and do not offer appropriate safeguarding support.

Do you work with male and female victims – if so – what are the rough percentages. What are the different challenges?

Although our services are available to all gender identities, the vast majority of domestic abuse survivors who contact us identify as female. 

What challenges do domestic abuse victims in this community face?

Every survivor of domestic abuse is unique and faces unique challenges. Sometimes, by being part of a tight-knit community, it can be especially hard to leave the relationship as survivors may face judgement and shaming for divorcing an abusive partner. 

The major challenge survivors face is the lack of understanding and support from professionals. Those fleeing domestic abuse can face ignorance, discrimination and outright abuse from services that are there to support survivors. 

How important is your role and why?

It’s great to have a dedicated role for women’s work, as there are many areas we are eager to work on to improve the outcomes for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller women. In all our work, we want to hold the voice of GRT women at the centre and find out what they say they need from services in order to feel supported.

What would you like to see in the future when it comes to domestic abuse and the Traveller communities?

We would like to see sustainable funding afforded to domestic abuse services in order to do essential trust-building work and long-term support. To this end, developing equal partnerships between generic and specialist services is required. Frontline workers in generic services must receive GRT led cultural competency training and this should be integrated into formal education curricula and training structures. GRT women need greater support in the areas of mental health, healthy relationships, education and child protection. 

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