Research into the impact of gender-based violence on victims-survivors and their experience of justice has led to greater protection for survivors of domestic abuse and their children, new understanding of what victim-survivors of gender-based violence seek in terms of justice, and improved advocacy, training and support by specialist services such as Women’s Aid and Rape Crisis.
- Professor Marianne Hester and team’s findings in 2017 directly influenced the revision of guidance for family court judges including the President of the Family Court’s review of Practice Direction 12J (2016), affording victims-survivors and their children better protection from unsafe child contact and further abuse during the court process.
- Their research also fed into the Government’s landmark 2019 Domestic Abuse Bill that provides a legal definition of domestic abuse and consolidates previous police intervention through domestic abuse protection orders.
- Police commissioners in the north east and south west used the evidence that support from independent domestic and sexual violence advocacy services significantly improves criminal justice outcomes to make the case for funding such specialist independent services.
- The research team’s new ‘Measuring Justice Tool’ helps specialist services such as Rape Crisis and Women’s Aid identify and formally measure the sense of justice victims-survivors gain through the support and validation they receive from domestic and sexual violence advocacy services. This metric is now being used by specialist gender based violence (GBV) support services to better capture the full value and impact of their work, also important in funding applications.
- Findings have informed Women’s Aid national training, delivered to more than 50 practitioners, and training for its Independent Domestic Abuse Advocate qualification. In 2019 Research in Practice commissioned Professor Hester to develop a national social care practitioner training programme, delivered to 159 practitioners including social workers and family court advisors across the UK.
- Many of the 251 victim-survivors interviewed during the research said they benefited greatly from the opportunity to voice and process their experiences, as well as contribute to improved justice outcomes for others.
"The research has transformed our understanding of justice for survivors of domestic abuse, and has been used extensively to influence policy and practice, including the current Domestic Abuse Bill and our national training programme for frontline professionals.” (Sarika Seshadri, Head of Research and Evaluation, Women’s Aid Federation of England)
About the research
Today, less than 2% of rape cases reported to the police result in a conviction. And the most vulnerable victims-survivors of gender-based violence (GBV) – often those whose mental health has been damaged by their abuse – are least likely to obtain formal justice.
In her work over the past 20 years with criminal justice data, Professor Marianne Hester has gathered evidence of an increasingly under-resourced and problematic system. “It’s clear that the formal justice system rarely offers victims-survivors of gender- based violence ‘justice’ in the sense of convictions for crimes, rather many are left feeling revictimised by their experience of the system,” Professor Hester says. “Our research pulls together evidence on different justice systems, different forms of abuse and different forms of inequality to really understand how victims- survivors see justice.”
To tackle this complex issue, Professor Hester and her team looked at more than 1,500 victims-survivors’ experiences and perceptions of justice across formal criminal, civil and family justice systems. They looked across all forms of GBV including domestic abuse, sexual violence, forced marriage and ‘honour-based’ violence; and across all types of inequalities such as gender, ethnic minorities and poor mental health as well as different faiths. They analysed police records to follow how domestic abuse and rape cases progress through the criminal justice system, as well as interviews with 251 victims-survivors of GBV.
Hester and colleagues’ findings reveal clear inequalities in the criminal justice system. Convictions are low and even less likely for older victims-survivors, and those with poor mental health. And there are few cases in the criminal justice system involving victims- survivors from Black and ethnic minority groups or lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, queer groups.
In the absence of formal justice, many of the victims- survivors interviewed expressed an interest in ‘wider’ forms of justice that can be found outside a courtroom. As Professor Hester explains: “What we found is the pressing need for a victim-focused agenda for gender-based violence where victims are believed, their experiences of abuse are validated, perpetrators are held accountable, and victims- survivors are empowered to get on with their lives and thrive.”
Based on this research, specialist services such as Rape Crisis and Women’s Aid, who focus on support and advocacy for victims-survivors, are now working with their clients to embed this wider, ‘survivor- focused’ view of justice and help them regain the sense of self and worth that the abuser has destroyed.