By Raphael Attar
In October the National Centre for Domestic Violence (NCDV) ran a training day for City University students. Towards the end of the day, we are shown a video which includes testimony from several survivors of domestic abuse. There are other elements to the video – a dramatic reconstruction of the progress of a case; explanation of the various stages of proceedings – but it is these stories, simply told by the survivors themselves, which stay with me. They describe the utter desperation and hopelessness which sustained abuse caused the victims to feel, and the incredible impact that the organisation made in helping them break free of that desperate situation. When the lights come up I glance around the room, and see many of us are blinking back tears.
In England and Wales domestic violence will affect one in four women in their lifetime, and one in six men. On average, a woman is murdered by a current or former partner every three days. In 90% of violent incidents, children are in the same or the adjacent room. Many of these children – around 60% of those in abusive households – will themselves be victims of abuse. The statistics are shocking. Behind the figures there are millions of individual stories. They are hidden on every street, behind netted curtains and forced smiles and little white lies.
The National Centre for Domestic Violence – originally the London Centre for Domestic Violence – was founded in 2002 by Steve Connor (now Dr Steve Connor OBE, and an alumni of the City Law School). At that time help for victims seeking non-molestation orders was essentially unavailable to a huge swath of those who neither qualified for legal aid, nor had the funds to employ a solicitor privately. Since its foundation the organisation has grown from two people, operating exclusively in London, to a nationwide operation which employs hundreds of volunteers to help thousands of victims each year. As well as victim support, they provide training to the police and government agencies around the country.
Volunteers at NCDV mostly act as McKenzie Friends – supporting clients who will appear in court as litigants in person, in order to take out an injunction against their abuser. We assist in the preparation of court documents, and may be called on to attend court with clients to offer emotional support and limited guidance through the legal process. Cases are typically turned around – from first contact to injunction served – in around 48 hours. While confidentiality prohibits me from going into detail on specific procedures or cases, I can say that the work provides a huge and immediate sense of having helped someone in great need. In the course of a conversation with a client, you come to know some of the most intimate details of their history, and get the tiniest glimpse into what they have been experiencing. It is deeply humbling work.
It is also desperately needed. The gap for legal provision for victims in need remains, and there are always more cases coming in. Training for prospective volunteers is provided throughout the year at various locations and institutions. You can find out more about NCDV, and apply to be a volunteer, at their website: www.ncdv.org.uk
 Sources: lwa.org.uk, refuge.org.uk