May 20th, 2010

Can you be a friend to victims of domestic violence?

AWARE’s Befriender programme provides moral support and other help to victims of domestic violence. PATRICIA DRISCOLL, a Befriender, shares her experience and explains why the service is so important.

The experience of going to the family court to obtain a Personal Protection Order (PPO) can be daunting and lonely.  Having someone there with you to provide support can make all the difference.

AWARE’s Befriender programme aims to provide this support for women who have been victims of domestic violence and who do not have someone to accompany them to the court.  Support will also be available for women to attend the police station, hospital and other appointments that are difficult to face alone.

I am an expat living in Singapore and an AWARE volunteer.  I have accompanied women to the Family Court as a Befriender for hearings about PPOs and maintenance.  These visits have convinced me of the immense value of AWARE providing such a service.

What struck me most about the women I accompanied was how strong and brave they were.  They were victims of domestic violence, had to leave their homes because of this, and were still working hard to ensure the survival of their children and themselves.  The strongest of women, however, can be disarmed by something as confusing and intimidating as a court hearing when you do not have a lawyer and your husband is sitting across the waiting room from you.

The logistics of the court hearing – registration, purpose of the hearing, what will happen during the hearing – are not necessarily made clear to the applicant.  This is confusing for anyone, and when you’re emotionally and physically exhausted, it can push you near to giving up.

Having a Befriender there to help you with the basics and to assist you in finding out exactly what is going on and where you are supposed to be can take a lot of the unnecessary confusion out of the process.

The Befriender can also accompany the applicant into the courtroom and listen to the hearing.  This can be crucial if the applicant is unclear about the outcome of the hearing; it’s easy to be distracted by the stress of having to speak in front of a judge and a crowded court.

The abusive partner or ex-partner will almost always be in attendance.  They can also attend with as many family members or friends as they wish.  The presence of the Befriender can take some of the strain out of this unnerving situation.  The Befriender can also play a vital role in the applicant’s safety, particularly by making sure that she has a secure way to leave the court.

There is  a great deal of waiting time with court hearings and a Befriender can be someone to simply chat to and pass the time with.

AWARE is running a training programme for Befrienders starting this July.  The training will last six weeks and involve one or two sessions per week, usually in the evenings.  Topics covered will include the role of the Befriender, domestic violence and the relevant law and procedure.

These sessions will ensure the volunteer is equipped with the skills and knowledge required to provide a useful service.  Site visits will also be made to the Family Court and police station as part of the training.

You do not have to be a lawyer to volunteer for the programme.  You do, however, have to be at least 24 years old, have the flexibility to be available for daytime volunteering, and have a desire to provide valuable support to women going through a difficult, often harrowing, process.

Note:  If you are interested to join our Befrienders Team, please email anne.bergen@aware.org.sg or call Anne at 6779 7137.

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