Domestic and Gender Based Violence Are you a victim of domestic violence or know someone who is? We could help you. Violence against women is a major concern across Europe. One in three women report some form of physical or sexual abuse. When victims of domestic violence are finally able to leave an abusive partner, they are often forced to flee in unplanned and urgent circumstances. This can make it impossible for them to retrieve documents and belongings which may be required by the authorities at some stage. Strained relationships also mean that abusive spouses rarely cooperate with their vulnerable partners. Though this difficult and potentially dangerous situation is widely acknowledged, lack of documentation is a common reason that victims of domestic violence face problems establishing immigration status, and accessing social assistance and social security benefits. When leaving an abusive relationship, if a woman needs shelter, she is often required to make a financial contribution towards this. This could be through her own funds or through social assistance and benefits such as Housing Benefit or Income Support. A key barrier to this support is the right to reside test. In our work with victims of domestic violence we have found that if refused social assistance, many women face the impossible decision of having to choose between remaining with a violent partner or ending up destitute and homeless. Our clients find themselves in vulnerable situations, destitute and hopeless, when the rights to which they are entitled in theory, are denied in practice. If you are a victim of domestic abuse or are looking for advice on behalf of someone who is, call us on our advice line. Our advice line is open Mondays to Fridays between 10:30am and 6pm on 020 7831 4276 or email us at i[email protected] Photo Credit: Chris West via Flickr Our Approach Advice: We have provided free legal advice to hundreds of victims of domestic violence. We also undertake strategic litigation and interventions in key cases raising issues faced by large numbers of women. Through our frontline work with these women, we identified the following key issues, which persist in relation to women victims of violence in the UK: Lack of access to adequate financial assistance and support for EEA national victims of domestic violence and non-EEA national victims who are family member Difficulties in retaining independent rights of residence faced by non-EEA national victims where the EEA national has left the UK and / or obtained a divorce abroad unilaterally Uncertain immigration and social assistance provision for third country national durable partners of EEA nationals whose relationship breaks down due to violence Policy: We submit written evidence to Government Committees relating to issues of violence against women and we are monitoring the UK's ratification and implementation of the Instanbul Convention. Training: We can provide training to organisations working with victims of domestic abuse on the rights of EEA nationals or non-EEA national family members. Our work in action Sylvia's Story Sylvia, a 32 year old Brazilian woman, was severely beaten by her Italian husband. Frightened for her life, she fled from home in the middle of the night. Latin American Women’s Aid (LAWA) provided her with the shelter, care and psychological support she needed, but the UK authorities said that Sylvia’s lack of proof about her husband’s work over the past five years meant she had not established that she has a right to remain in the UK. Sylvia had no family, friends, job prospects or support network in Brazil and was desperate to stay in the UK where she had made a life for herself. She was too scared of her ex-husband to ask him for the relevant documents that would allow her to stay. This is when we got involved. Through careful advocacy on the correct application of European law, we were able to show that Sylvia’s residence rights in the UK could not be denied simply because she was unable to provide the required documentation. One of our lawyers accompanied Sylvia to her hearing in the Immigration Tribunal and successfully advocated for Sylvia to be granted a permanent residence card. Sylvia now feels safe, protected from her ex-husband and secure in knowing she can remain in the UK and start a new life.