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    Gypsy, Roma and Traveller History Month June 2022

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    Gypsy, Roma and Traveller History Month June 2022

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    In June, every year since 2008, people from across the UK celebrate Gypsy, Roma and Traveller History Month. This yearly event is crucial in raising awareness and tackling myths and prejudices in relation to this community.

    There are around 300,000 Gypsies and Travellers living in the UK. It is important to note that Travellers are not all the same. They are individual communities. Gypsies, Roma and Travellers of Irish Heritage are identified as racial groups and are covered by the Race Relations Act as legitimate minority ethnic communities.

    The National Centre for Domestic Violence (NCDV) is a free, fast emergency injunction service for survivors for victims and survivors of domestic abuse regardless of their financial circumstances, race, gender or sexual orientation. NCDV is a fully inclusive, gender neutral Community Interest Company and although we take many referrals from the Gypsy and Roma Traveller communities, we know that our service is only the tip of the iceberg in relation to the support and advice they need when escaping a domestically abusive relationship.

    Sharon Bryan – Head of Partnerships & Development of Domestic Abuse Services here at NCDV has been a member of The Traveller Movement’s Steering Group for their Domestic Abuse and Women’s work since its inception in 2021. The group has insight and a critical friend role and most importantly is a forum where everyone can share insight, collaborate on projects and network to raise awareness of the Gypsy, Roma Traveller community which is vital in dispelling the myths and prejudices that exist for these people.

    Domestic Abuse is a significant health issue in these communities. Although a lot of abusive incidents are perpetrated by husbands and intimate partners, it is not uncommon for family members to also perpetrate the abuse. Gypsy and Traveller women are far less likely to report incidents of abuse. The reason for this ranges from them having poor literacy and education to distrust of the police, social services and other mainstream authorities. The isolated nature of these communities means that there is a lack of support for survivors of domestic abuse. The Gypsy and Traveller communities are a vulnerable part of our society who face discrimination on an individual, institutional and societal level.

    We know that 66% of Domestic Abuse Practitioners don’t know how to engage with Gypsy, Roma, and Traveller survivors. Barriers for these communities can include loss of community, fear of living in a house, although over 70% do live in bricks and mortar, and lack of knowledge of mainstream services that can help. Gypsy and Traveller women often have large numbers of children which means it’s difficult for them to be accepted into refuge spaces as refuges are often not able to accommodate large families. When a woman does decide to leave her abusive husband or partner, she is also often leaving her community and family.

    Professionals must do more as there is a lack of understanding by those in front-line services in relation to culture and barriers for these women. Traveller Movement has published a ‘Good Practise Guide’ which can be accessed through the link. Research has found that many GP’s will not accept Gypsy and Travellers onto their practise lists, which further isolates these women from seeking help.

    Traveller Movement offers domestic abuse awareness training for professionals. This includes watching their unreleased film ‘Never Going to Beat You’ which has been created from the stories of 18 Gypsy and Traveller survivors. You can watch the trailer here. Once the film is watched, participants join an online training that is co-delivered with survivors from the community who explain their support needs in their own words.

    We all need to play our part in making sure these marginalised communities are recognised, listened to and treated fairly, especially when they are experiencing domestic abuse and reaching out for help.

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    By Fiona Bawden, Times Online (8th May 2007)

    “Steve Connor, a student at City Law School, is a man on a mission. Six years ago he was a fairly directionless 27-year-old. Today, as well as taking the Bar Vocational Course, he is chairman of the National Centre for Domestic Violence, a ground-breaking organisation that he dragged into existence after a friend could not get legal help to protect her from an abusive partner.

    Connor’s route to the Bar has been circuitous. In 2001 he returned from a year in Australia (he says that he would not dignify describing it as a gap year), and took a job as a process server in South London. The job (“I just saw it advertised in the paper”) was not quite as dull as it sounds. On one occasion he was threatened with a machete, on another, he was nearly stabbed by a man he had arranged to meet on Clapham Common to serve with a non-molestation order: “He’d seemed really friendly on the phone…”

    The turning point in his life came when a friend, who was being abused by her partner, turned to him for support. Connor went with her to the police. She did not want to press criminal charges so the police suggested that she visit a solicitor to take out a civil injunction. “We must have seen 12 solicitors in a morning. We just went from one to the next to the next to the next. Everyone was very eager to help until we sat down to fill in the forms for the legal aid means test,” he says. The woman, who had a small child, did not qualify for public funding. But, Connor says, her financial situation as it appeared on paper did not bear any relation to her financial situation in reality. “She had a part-time job and she and her partner owned their home. Yet she didn’t have any money. Her boyfriend was very controlling and controlled all the money; he kept the chequebooks and didn’t let her have access to the bank account.”

    The injustice of the situation got under Connor’s skin. “I just couldn’t believe that there was no help available to people who did not qualify for public funds but could not afford to pay.

    I just kept feeling that this must be able to be sorted if only someone would address it.”That “someone” turned out to be him.

    In 2002, thanks entirely to Connor’s doggedness, the London Centre for Domestic Violence was formed. It started out with him and a friend, but is now a national organisation, covering 27 counties, and has helped approximately 10,000 victims last year to take out injunctions against their partners.

    NCDV now has nine full-time staff, 12 permanent volunteers and has trained over 5000 law and other students as McKenzie Friends to accompany unrepresented victims into court. We have also trained over 8000 police officers in civil remedies available regarding domestic violence. The National Centre for Domestic Violence (NCDV) has branches in London, Guildford and Manchester and is on track to have branches in 16 areas within the next two years.

    NCDV specialises exclusively in domestic violence work and could be characterised as a cross between McDonald’s and Claims Direct. The high degree of specialisation means that its processes are streamlined: clients can be seen quickly and the work is done speedily and cheaply. “Sometimes, we will have one of our trained McKenzie Friends at a court doing 10 applications in one day,” Connor says.

    Clients are not charged for the service. NCDV staff take an initial statement: clients who qualify for legal aid are referred to a local firm; those that don’t get free help from the centre itself. It runs on a shoestring, heavily reliant on volunteers and capping staff salaries at £18,000 a year.

    Steve expects to qualify as a barrister this summer and hopes that having a formal legal qualification will give the centre added clout. “We are already acknowledged as experts and consulted at a high level, so I thought it would be helpful if I could back that up by being able to say I’m a barrister,” he says. He is just about to complete a one-year full-time BVC course at the City Law School (formerly the Inns of Court Law School) and, all being well, should be called to the Bar in July. Although Connor sees his long-term future as a barrister, he says that he has no immediate plans to practise. “I want to get NCDV running on a fully national level. Then I may take a step back and have a career at the Bar.”