Centre for victims of gender-based violence serving its purpose, says minister

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Men and women who have experienced various forms gender-based and sexual violence continue to benefit from the services offered by the Support and Referral Centre (SARC) which operates from within the Directorate of Gender Affairs.

Gender Affairs Minister Samantha Marshall said since the establishment of the department in June 2017, it has provided 24-hour service for 330 clients – 298 women and 32 men – and the department continues to make upgrades to ensure that victims are able to get the assistance required.

“The SARC provides 24/7 care and services to all victims of gender-based and sexual violence from one convenient location. The SARC offers crisis counselling and psychosocial support, court advocacy services, referrals, safety planning and protection orders,” Marshall said

She explained that clients can also receive police intervention through the SARC via the Police Special Victims Support Unit and undergo a forensic medical examination for an assault.

According to Marshall, through the SARC’s child friendly space the center also offers temporary child care for clients while they access services, and the 24-hour crisis hotline allows clients to contact a trained advocate at any time.

“The services offered through the SARC are completely client centered. These services were designed to meet the physical and physiological needs of survivors of violence and sexual assaults and to give them access to the justice system should they desire to seek redress through the court,” Marshall said.

The minister also spoke about a testimony room, with video technology, which has been added to the SARC to allow vulnerable clients such as children, to give evidence in sexual offence matters from a remote location.

Additionally, new protocols have also been established between the Directorate of Gender Affairs and the Family and Social Services Division to ensure the holistic care and treatment of all minor complainants, reducing anxiety and secondary trauma through a coordinated approach.

“Between 2014 to present four women have been killed in Antigua and Barbuda as a result of gender-based violence; one remains missing to this day. As alarming as these cases are, there remains countless cases that go unreported and unrecognised. We must ensure that survivors not only have access to the justice system, but they also feel comfortable and confident accessing the system,” the Gender Affairs Minister said.

Late last year, the unit also signed a signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Antigua and Barbuda High Court for the establishment of the Sexual Offences Model Court as part of the Judicial Reform and Institutional Strengthening Project- JURIST Project.

The MOU outlined the goal and objectives of the Sexual Offences Model Court, the principles guiding the work of practitioners in the SARC, as well as the roles and responsibilities of the SARC and the Antigua and Barbuda High Court in providing support to complainants in sexual offence cases.

The model court, intended to provide a timely and coordinated response to complainants and vulnerable witnesses involved in sexual offence cases, was launched in Antigua and Barbuda on Monday.

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