A scheme that enables victims of domestic abuse to access support at pharmacies may not meet the required safety standards, a charity warns.
The government-backed Ask for Ani scheme allows those at risk or suffering from abuse to discreetly signal that they need help and access support.
Government bosses say anyone asking for Ani will be offered a private space with a trained pharmacy worker who will help them contact the police or access support services.
However, Nicki Norman, acting chief executive at domestic abuse charity Women’s Aid says it is neither fair nor safe to expect staff members to respond to a survivor effectively without proper training.
‘Women’s Aid knows that, most often, the first time survivors speak about domestic abuse is to friends, family or someone in the community. Improving gateways to support and safety in our communities is essential.
‘However, we remain concerned that the proposed national scheme does not meet critical safeguards. We know from survivors that the first response they receive when they reach out is critical for their next step.
‘But it is neither fair nor safe to expect staff members to respond to a survivor effectively without robust staff training, facilitated by an expert trainer.
‘Harmful attitudes and persistent myths about domestic abuse in our society also must be challenged.
‘We are experts in training and empowering community members to give safe, effective responses to survivors, having led, in partnership with Welsh Women’s Aid, a community response to domestic abuse, Ask Me, for four years and trained over 1000 ambassadors in England.
‘This kind of training is critical for ensuring survivors get the right support, the first time.’
The charity is also concerned that migrant women with an insecure immigration status won’t report abuse to the police for fear of being detained and deported.
Ms Norman said: ‘Government guidance and information about domestic abuse must be universally available for all survivors during this challenging time.
‘However, we share the concerns of services led by and for disabled women that Downing Street press briefings are still not available British Sign Language.
‘We also remain concerned that the ‘Ask for Ani scheme will not be accessible to all marginalised groups. We know that migrant women will continue to fear reporting abuse and seeking help because of the data-sharing arrangements between the Home Office and health services.
‘We continue to support urgent calls by the Step Up Migrant Women campaign led by the Latin American Women’s Rights Service, for safe reporting mechanisms for migrant survivors, through the domestic abuse bill.’
The Home Office also announced reforms on pre-charge bail, which Home Secretary Priti Patel says will enable police to impose strict conditions on more suspects in high-harm cases, including most cases of domestic abuse and sexual violence
‘As Home Secretary, it is my priority to deliver justice for victims and restore confidence in our criminal justice system.
‘The introduction of the national codeword scheme, Ask for Ani, will ensure victims of domestic abuse can always get help when they need it.
‘While our pre-charge bail reforms will ensure that suspects, including those charged with domestic abuse, are more closely monitored and the public is protected.
‘Taken together, these changes will help us create a safer more secure UK.’
The Ask for Ani scheme will be initially available through the 2,300 Boots stores across the UK as well as 255 independent pharmacies. There will be an on-going sign-up process open to all pharmacies.
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