LIVERPOOL-based Savera UK, a leading charity tackling culturally-specific abuse, including forced marriage, female genital mutilation (FGM) and ‘honour’-based abuse (HBA) in the UK, has revealed the outcomes of a three-year project funded by the National Lottery Community Fund Women and Girls Initiative.
The charity was awarded the funding to develop its one-to-one support services, engage young people in schools to educate them about domestic abuse and harmful practices and to also raise community awareness to help reduce incidents of domestic and culturally-specific abuse.
During the project, Savera UK delivered on five key outcomes; increasing the provision of holistic approaches for BME women and girls at risk, enabling feedback from its clients to influence future service delivery, educating on what constitutes domestic abuse and harmful practices and highlighting where individuals can go for advice and support, raising awareness of the rights of those at risk and empowering them to safely assert those rights.
Over the three-year period, Savera UK saw a 1,316 percent increase in its caseload, revealing a bigger than anticipated demand for its services. It also reported a 150 percent increase in self-referrals, indicating an increased awareness among women and girls at risk of the organisation as a place to go to get help and advice. Other key sources of referrals included Merseyside Police, Social Services and domestic abuse agencies. Referrals from the NHS also increased by 350 percent during the project.
The majority of individuals supported by the charity during the project were at risk from multiple perpetrators (90 percent of cases) with some describing how their families had put extreme pressure on them to marry against their will or to remain with abusive partners, telling them that to leave the marriage would lead to them being killed to uphold family ‘honour’.
As well as providing help, safeguarding and safety plans to those in immediate danger, Savera UK also provided emotional support, help with mental and physical health, support with legal and immigration matters, safeguarding in cases involving children, help with housing and relocation and support to combat social isolation.
The project ran from December 2016 to November 2019 and an independent evaluation, compiled by Independent Evaluator and Researcher, Jackie Patiniotis, was recently revealed by the organisation to senior and key professionals in statutory services, police and other agencies.
The event panel included Savera UK Survivor Ambassador, Khatra Paterson, Merseyside PCC Community Engagement Manager, Norma Kielty-Crummey, community representative, Alex Mufti, BBC Radio Merseyside presenter, Ngunan Adamu and Savera UK’s Service Development Manager, along with CEO and founder, Afrah Qassim.
The project also featured feedback from a number of service users on their journey, who cited the organisation’s emotional support as the most important part of the Savera UK’s offer and described feeling safer, supported and listened to after accessing its services.
One client said:
“I come first, my support workers say, ‘nice to meet you, welcome to Savera’. And she listens to me very carefully. She listens from her heart. I was crying, she held my hand, she said ‘don’t worry, now you are not alone, we are with you, we believe you’. So she gives me hope.”
Another spoke of the sense of empowerment and desire to enact wider social change gained through the support offered by Savera. She said:
“If I am not standing for myself, I will not be able to stand for my future. My future could be my child. And if that child is a girl, she will have to live the same life as I am living if I don’t stand for myself… Because that [change] doesn’t happen out of destiny, we have to fight for it.”
Evidence from interviews with senior and key professionals in statutory services pointed to an appreciation of the knowledge that Savera UK has introduced to their services through training and awareness-raising, highlighting how the advice and expertise have been pivotal in strengthening local responses to harmful practices.
During the course of the project, Savera UK, delivered more than 45 training and educational sessions to schools, community groups and professionals across the UK, reaching thousands of people.
Merseyside’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Jane Kennedy commissions Savera UK. She said:
“I’m proud to be working with Savera UK to deliver this important service raising awareness of harmful practices and protecting and supporting victims and potential victims.
“Sadly, harmful practices are still very much a hidden crime. They are also significantly under-reported. We know that there may be only one chance, one window of opportunity, to reach out and save a person who may be in harm’s way. If we don’t, that person may walk out the door and, in the very worst of cases, may never be seen again.
“That’s why it is essential that we do everything possible to increase understanding and knowledge of these issues and let victims and potential victims know that there are people who can help, people who understand what they are going through. I’d like to thank Jackie Patiniotis for this important evaluation and give my best wishes and gratitude to Savera UK for 10 years of supporting vulnerable victims.”
Savera UK CEO and founder, Afrah Qassim, added:
“When Savera UK was first established 10 years ago, we were told that there was no demand for services supporting those at risk of harmful practices. This evaluation clearly demonstrates that low reporting figures have been the result of the hidden nature of these practices, lack of awareness of the help available within affected communities and a lack of understanding of the complex nature of these forms of abuse among those working in these communities.
“In three years our case numbers increased from 18 to 255. There is a human story behind each of these numbers and every person who speaks out and gets help is a life saved.
“We would like to thank the National Lottery Women and Girls Initiative for funding this project. It has enabled us to help, educate and support thousands of people and more individuals are reaching out to us for help than ever before. It is only through continued education, awareness-raising initiatives and collaborative working that we can encourage people at risk from culturally-specific abuse to speak out and move closer to eradicating these harmful practices completely.”
For help and support please contact the Savera UK helpline 0800 107 0726 (Monday – Friday, 9am – 5pm). In an emergency, please call 999.
To find out more about Savera UK and the services it offers, visit: saverauk.co.uk