ASSIST NI

ASSIST NI was set up in 2021 by a partnership consisting of Belfast & Lisburn Women’s Aid, Foyle Family Justice Centre and Men’s Advisory Project.

The service is made up of advocates passionate about supporting victims of domestic and sexual abuse.  The focus of the service is to forge and nurture strong working relationships with other services across Northern Ireland to ensure that victims of domestic abuse can access the support they need.

Where are ASSIST NI based? 

ASSIST NI advocates are located in police stations across Northern Ireland as well as the Rowan Sexual Assault Referral Centre (the Rowan). 

How can ASSIST NI help me? 

Advocates at ASSIST NI work closely with the PSNI as well as statutory and voluntary services across NI.   If you have been the victim of domestic abuse and have been referred to the service by the PSNI or the Rowan Centre, ASSIST NI can help you in the following ways:- 

  1. They can support you with your case and provide information on navigating the criminal justice system. 
  2. They can assess your needs and risk, and work with you to create a safety support plan to help you deal with the trauma of any crime committed. 
  3. They can provide you with non-judgmental, trauma-informed and victim-centred support. 
  4. They can support and guide you, as well as encourage any engagement with the criminal justice system and advocate on your behalf where issues arise.
  5. They can support you to access services. 

ASSIST NI supports victims of all genders, adults and young people, victims from the LGBTQ+ community and victims from minority faith or race groups.  The service is completely free and is delivered across Northern Ireland to provide trauma-informed support and vital information to all victims of domestic and sexual abuse.

For more information on the service, check out their website  https://assistni.org.uk/

World Elder Abuse Awareness Day 2022: Protecting Older People from Domestic Abuse

The United Nations designated 15th June as ‘World Elder Abuse Awareness Day’ as an occasion to recognise and highlight the issue of elder abuse in the world and for each country to vocalise its opposition to the abuse and suffering inflicted upon some members of our older generations.

Elder abuse can take many forms though it is widely considered as being “a single or repeated act or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust, which causes harm or distress to an older person.”  As well as financial abuse and neglect, this of course includes physical, emotional verbal and sexual abuse.

Many may view domestic abuse as something that primarily affects younger people or those with children. However just as many older people are affected by domestic abuse. These victims have may have suffered long-term abuse and often face more barriers in their help- seeking process.

Many older victims have lived through a generation where domestic abuse was not recognised or acknowledged, and many have suffered for decades in silence.  As a result, these victims may not be aware of the support and services that are available today.

Today, on #WEAAD22, we want to share Women’s Aid Belfast & Lisburn’s message that that support is available for victims of domestic abuse of any age and highlight that it’s never too late to seek help. We have shared below a wonderful article from Women’s Aid Belfast & Lisburn along with ‘Lisa’s Story’.

Should you require any further information on how to protect yourself against domestic abuse, contact us here.

Netflix series ‘Maid’ shines a light on Coercive Control & Emotional Abuse

Image: RICARDO HUBBS/NETFLIX

In October 2021, Netflix released fictional 10-part series ‘Maid’ which quickly became one of the streaming site’s most successful shows, with over 67 million people having watched it worldwide to date.

‘Maid’ has received critical acclaim and recognition for its portrayal of issues surrounding parenthood, relationship breakdown, poverty and domestic abuse

The show’s storyline centres around Alex, the young mother of 2-year-old daughter Maddy, and the struggles she faces when she tries to escape a toxic relationship with Maddy’s father, the abusive and alcoholic Sean.  When Alex flees in the middle of the night with Maddy with no money, housing or job, she falls further victim to a system that is broken and that provides her with little to no support.  Alex’s steely determination to succeed and to provide a better life for her daughter suffers one setback after another and with each episode, we become emotionally invested in the journey that this young woman takes in trying to regain control of her life and escape the deep-rooted shackles of an emotionally abusive relationship. 

Abuse does not have to be physical 

Since its premiere, ‘Maid’ has been applauded for not only shining a light and raising awareness on the existence of coercive control and emotional abuse within relationships, but it has also assisted in helping those struggling in emotionally abusive relationships to identify this non-physically violent behaviour and to empower them to seek support.   

In the first episode, Alex tells a Social Worker, “Maddy’s dad drinks and he blacks out and punches stuff.” When asked if he punches her or Maddy, she replies; No, I’m not abused.”  When asked whether she wishes to report Sean’s abusive behaviour to the police, Alex replies “and say what? That he didn’t hit me?”   

Until recent years it has been a common misconception, not just within society but among victims, that for there to be domestic abuse in a relationship, there needs to be a physically abusive element to that relationship.  In Northern Ireland, a landmark piece of legislation will come into force in March 2022 which it is hoped will dispel this myth.  The Domestic Abuse and Civil Proceedings Act Northern Ireland 2021 will criminalise a course of abusive behaviour including both physical and non-physical abusive behaviours such as controlling and coercive behaviours.   

Coercive control to be punishable by law in NI 

One of the most significant aspects of this Act will be the introduction of coercive control as a criminal offence in Northern Ireland.  As well as violent or threatening behaviour, the following behaviour will also be punishable by law: –  

  1. Making a victim feel dependent on, or subordinate to a perpetrator 
  2. Isolating a victim from friends, family members or other sources of social interaction or support 
  3. Controlling, regulating or monitoring a victim’s day to day activities 
  4. Depriving a victim of, or restricting their freedom of action 
  5. Making a victim feel frightened, humiliated, degraded, punished or intimidated. 

The legislation also includes provisions which recognise the detrimental effect that domestic abuse can have on children, with enhanced sentences possible in cases where a child is exposed to an incident of domestic abuse.  Convictions for the most serious domestic abuse offences will carry a penalty of up to 14 years imprisonment.  

‘Maid’ is not an easy watch at times, though it has an important and compelling message. Domestic abuse is often far more complex that the standardized ‘man hits woman’ narrative.  The impact that emotional abuse and coercive control can have on a person’s mental health and emotional wellbeing cannot be underestimated.   It is hugely positive that the success of this series has allowed some focus to be given to this overlooked thread of abusive behaviour.   

The show’s success is timely in the backdrop of Northern Ireland’s own changes to the law in this area. Allowing for criminal prosecutions to arise from non-physical abusive behaviours will go some way to providing further protection to the Alex’s in our society who are trying to break free from abusive relationships.  

For further information, advice and support with domestic abuse, please feel free to contact us here.

  

Having Contact with Your Children

parent

Relationship breakdown is a very painful time for the adults involved, but it can be even more difficult for children.

Children within the family are often the innocent and confused casualties of the breakdown of a relationship.

What if I can’t agree contact arrangements with my ex-partner?

Many parents are able to agree between themselves arrangements for their children which enable them to continue to enjoy a relationship with both parents.

For many other families, contact arrangements cannot be agreed.  Some parents choose to engage in mediation as a means of trying to negotiate a solution.

Where mediation is not suitable or has proved unsuccessful, an application can be made to Family Courts to resolve the issue of contact.

Children proceedings in Northern Ireland are initially dealt with by the Family Proceedings Court – in this Court,  the child’s best interests are the primary concern. This means that the main focus will always be on the welfare of the child first, rather than the rights of either parent.  It is a commonly held view that if safe and appropriate, a child should enjoy a relationship with both parents.

What will the Court look at when deciding on contact arrangements?

Each family is a unique group of individuals and in considering an application for contact, the Court will look at the particular circumstances of the child and family in question.   Contact arrangements will differ depending on the circumstances of each family.

The views and the feelings of the child involved are also taken into account and a Court Children’s Officer (who is essentially, a Court-appointed Social Worker) may be asked to speak with the children individually to try to ascertain what these are.

How much weight is given to a particular child’s wishes will depend upon the age and understanding of that child: for example, the views of a 14 year old child would weigh more heavily in influencing decisions than those of an 8 year old child.

Additionally, a child will not be forced to have contact with someone they are afraid of or who harms them in any way.

What is a Contact Order?

Contact Orders are Court Orders which set out the arrangements for when the non-resident parent can see their children.

Contact arrangements can vary in each case and therefore there are many different Contact Orders which a Court could make including the following:-

  • Indirect contact – for example,  the exchange of letters, cards and e-mails between parent and child with no regular visits
  • Direct contact – regular weekly contact between the child and parent
  • Overnight contact
  • Holiday contact – for example, additional contact at Easter, summer or Christmas.

Contact can also be supervised in cases where the Court directs that a relative or social worker must be present during visits.

How do Court proceedings conclude?

In most cases, Orders are made by agreement between the parents with the help of their legal advisors; this is the most preferable method, as Orders which are made with the consent of both parents are much more likely to work successfully in the future and reduce antagonism between the parties. However, where agreement cannot be reached, the Court will fully hear arguments from both parents and will ultimately make a Contact Order which is deemed to be in the best interests of the child.

When seeking a Solicitor to deal with this particular kind of case, it is important that you look for not only legal representation and good negotiation skills –  your Solicitor should be understanding and be capable of supporting you through this difficult period in life whilst progressing towards a workable arrangement which is in your child’s best interests.

If you require any further information, please contact us here or email us at info@fhanna.co.uk

Renting a Home – 5 Questions all Students Should Ask

first-time-buyer

A common rite of passage for many students finishing school is to leave the family nest and live independently in the big wide world – so after accepting a place in university or college, the next big step is often to secure private rented accommodation.

But before packing up, here are 5 questions that all students should ask for before renting property:

1.   Has my landlord given me the basics?

Once you have found your new home, you should make sure that the landlord provides you with the following:-

  • A Tenancy Agreement – This is the contract between you and your landlord giving both of you certain rights, for example, your right to occupy the property for a set period of time and your landlord’s right to receive rent from you.
  • A Rent Book – This is a book which should contain your landlord’s contact details – not just the details of any lettings agency. It is compulsory for all landlords in Northern Ireland to provide a rent book for all tenancies.
  • A Statement of Tenancy Terms – This statement is essentially a shorter version of your Tenancy Agreement and should contain details such as both your and your landlords name and address, contact details of the landlord or letting agency, and details of the amount of deposit you paid and the monthly rental charges

2. Have I done an Inventory?

Make sure that you get an Inventory of the items at the property provided by the landlord including details of condition and any obvious damage.

You should always accompany your landlord to complete the inventory on the property and photographs can be useful to document the condition of various items as the date that you moved in.

3. Is my deposit protected?

Your landlord will likely take payment of a deposit from you as a type of guarantee against any loss they might face because of the tenancy. This is normally the equivalent of one month’s rent. However, by law,  your landlord has to protect any deposit you pay them. They must enter into an authorised scheme run by one of the 3 companies approved to provide a tenancy deposit scheme in Northern Ireland.

If, at the end of your tenancy your landlord decides to keep some of your deposit for alleged loss or damage and you do not agree with this decision, the tenancy deposit scheme will have a procedure for you to follow to dispute this decision.

4. Has my landlord registered with the Landlord Registration Scheme?

Before signing for a tenancy, you should also check that your landlord is registered in the Land Registration Scheme – this is a central database that all landlords must sign up to before renting out a property.

5. Is the property HMO registered?

If you are renting out a property with two or more friends, the property must be correctly registered by your landlord as a HMO – that is, a House of Multiple Occupancy.   If a property is HMO registered, it must meet certain standards in terms of safety, facilities provided and occupancy.   It is important to ask your landlord to confirm that the property is HMO registered in this instance.

Renting a place of your own for the first time is a big milestone in any young person’s life and the start of a new chapter in growing up.

Whilst for some this may be daunting, being aware of your legal rights and responsibilities when renting your first home will help ensure that you have a safe, secure place to live so that you can concentrate on enjoying student life to its full.

For further information on tenancy agreements, feel free to contact us here or leave your comments below.