178. Not unsurprisingly given that they are an umbrella organisation for a diverse range of services, Women’s Aid had a more mixed picture of how those services were deciding when and if to use these exceptions. Janet McDermott explained that: A lot of members would not have a specific policy related to the Equality Act, but the existence of the Equality Act gives a confidence and presumption to services that they are doing the right thing in delivering women-only provision and that the law is behind them.200 195 Qq464–571 196 Q472 197 Q524 198 Q502 199 Qq502–506 & Q524 200 Q520
Enforcing the Equality Act: the law and the role of the Equality and Human Rights Commission 52 179. The panel discussed how the services they provided or worked with handled problems that may arise. Diana James told us that any problems in the refuge in which she worked were of the type that you would expect in the service they provided, and were unconnected to their inclusive approach: [i]f you get half a dozen traumatised women in a refuge, not everybody is going to get on with each other. There is going to be, “My abuse was worse than yours. What are you doing here?” If you get a lesbian in a refuge, “Women do not hit as hard as men do. Your abuse was not as tough as mine”.201 180. Such problems were dealt with “through policies, sitting down and speaking to people about issues they are facing and you work it through.”202 The Cornwall Refuge Trust also had robust safeguarding processes in place to ensure that no-one who may be a risk could access their services, regardless of their trans status: We do the prior stuff, everything, all the procedures before someone gets in, because you could have a woman come along who is a lesbian and we could have her ex-partner in the refuge. Therefore, we have to be really careful about everybody who gets into a refuge.203 181. Janet McDermott similarly explained that their members used risk and needs assessments “to pick up any malicious, vexatious or disruptive intention by anyone trying to access the service.” This was not just about an initial assessment, but also “managing relationships in communal living situations and managing group work.” This was particularly important for refuge services because of the nature of domestic abuse: Domestic abuse is about an abuse of power and control, so all our practice has to be about challenging any hint of perpetuating coercive behaviours in residents in refuge and in our services. The services can be unsafe places for all sorts of reasons [ … ] because of racism, because of homophobia, because of different levels of access to privilege, status, power and so on. We have to manage those power dynamics all the time within our service-user population and in relation to looking at a new referral and how safe our service is going to be with its current service users for this new potential referral.204 182. Karen Ingala Smith was less confident that the concerns Nia had identified could be managed through risk assessment, explaining that: When you first take a referral, it is over the telephone. Sometimes a woman
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- Fall '17