Specialist Deaf Independent Domestic Violence Advisor

Specialist Deaf Independent Domestic Abuse Advisor

Specialist Deaf Independent Domestic Abuse Advisors (IDVA) provide support to women and men from the deaf community who are experiencing domestic abuse and need support to stay safe. The role was created to help address the many barriers that deaf victims experience in disclosing abuse or accessing mainstream safeguarding services. Specialist Deaf IDVAs communicate in British Sign Language (BSL) and provide advice, support and information in a way that fully meets the victims’ needs. This can include providing risk assessments, safety planning, support during police investigations and throughout the court process, help to access benefits or housing and emotional support.

We talk to Rachael Dance, Service Manager for Cambridgeshire Deaf Association, who works as a Specialist Deaf IDVA serving Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.

How long have you been in the role?

Two years.

What was your (professional/voluntary) background before taking on this job?

I have worked for the Cambridgeshire Deaf Association for seven years and four of those as Service Manager. I qualified as an IDVA in 2021. Prior to joining the organisation, I was studying at the University of Wolverhampton for a BA Hons in British Sign Language Interpreting and English.

What sort of support do you offer?

Our aim is to provide victims of abuse with the equivalent service that all victims of domestic abuse receive. Deaf people are twice as likely to face domestic abuse than people in the hearing community within their lifetime. They also face significant barriers in reporting their experiences to police or accessing support when they need help due to communication difficulties. This prevents many people from leaving dangerous or risky relationships because of the extra vulnerability involved. We deliver the Freedom Programme in BSL. This nationally recognised domestic abuse programme helps victims of abuse to make sense of their experiences and understand what has happened to them. We also support victims to access refuges and make sure that equipment is in place to support them such as alerting doorbells and fire safety provision. Furthermore, we make sure their rights are upheld throughout the judicial process. Courts often struggle to find BSL interpreters and need to book services up to three weeks in advance.

We also make sure interpreters are accurate and will provide additional clarification and support on behalf of the victim whose emotions are often heightened due to trauma. We supported 12 victims in the first year of the service launching and 13 in the second.

Can you think of a victim/witness that you recently supported and describe what you think helped them recover/report/seek support?

We supported a victim with young children whose partner was financially abusing her and showing aggression. As the situation escalated, the victim contacted us for support. Initially, we helped the victim to recognise that abuse was taking place through the Freedom Programme. The victim chose to report the partner and we provided support with the police investigation. Where possible, we arrange safety plans that ensure the victim remains within their local area because of the additional barriers and lack of a support network if they were to move outside of the county. In this case, the partner moved out of the family home. The victim got their property back and is much more confident now that the partner is not part of their life anymore. The victim has also regained control of her life, anxiety levels have reduced and the ex-partner is far enough away for the victim to rebuild her life.

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