In March 2023, the Equality and Social Justice Committee launched an inquiry into the public health approach to preventing gender-based violence. In June 2023 it held an evidence session and requested a DECIPHer representative to participate on behalf of the School Health Research Network (SHRN). Here, Bethan Pell describes her first experience of giving evidence to Parliament.
My PhD is focused on developing a theoretical understanding of Child and Adolescent to Parent Violence and Abuse (CAPVA) in Wales. Along with this, I have a particular interest in building and developing the evidence-base for academics, policy-makers, commissioners and practitioners about what works to address and improve the outcomes of groups at risk of violence and abuse. Therefore I was keen to take up this opportunity to present to those at the heart of policy making in Wales. I was also pleased that I’d be presenting along with Dr Honor Young, a colleague at DECIPHer who I have worked with on projects such as the Health Pathfinder Evaluation (SAFELIVES).
For the record
We took up the option of sending a written submission first – it can be read here. As requested, the submission highlighted relevant completed and ongoing research projects. They had specifically requested representation on The School Health Research Network (SHRN) so added these details but also included other projects; Safe sex and relationships in Further Education (SaFE); School-based interventions TO Prevent Dating and Relationship Violence and Gender-Based Violence (STOP): DRV-GBV systematic review; A project on Peer on peer abuse commissioned by Welsh Government and led by Cardiff and Vale college; A published paper in collaboration with Cardiff Women’s Aid; my PhD; and SAFELIVES.
A quick debrief…
We also met with a support member from the Equality and Social Justice Committee who met with us to test the zoom link and give us a steer on the type of questions that the Committee would ask. There are so many questions on the SHRN survey that this helped us to narrow our scope and feel more prepared.
Just before the session, Honor and I met and ran through the broad aspects of what we wanted to say and which types of questions that we felt confident leading on, or thought the other should lead on. Honor’s research focus includes dating and relationship violence and gender-based violence, and she has lot of involvement in SHRN, so we decided that she would mainly answer SHRN-focused questions, given the Senedd’s particular interest in this.
On the day
We were both quite nervous – after all this was The Senedd! – but equally happy to have this opportunity to provide evidence and showcase DECIPHer research. We opted to attend the meeting online. Alexa Gainsbury and Emily Van De Ventor, who are part of the whole-school approach team in Public Health Wales, were also attending to provide evidence. We had worked with them before so it was a bonus to present alongside familiar faces whose work intersected with ours.
Although it wasn’t compulsory to provide the written submission, it was actually really helpful to do so, not only because it provided a prompt for us, but it meant that the Committee had prior knowledge of our research and could prepare specific questions.
A broad focus
As expected, the Committee’s main focus was SHRN. It started by referencing from our submission that there has been an age-related increase in all types of dating and relationship violence in both boys and girls, and requested the background on this finding. The Committee then wanted to know the questions in the survey that are relevant to this topic, of which Honor provided a comprehensive list. Gender-based violence encompasses a wide range of harms, and this was reflected in further questions; for example exposure to unsolicited images; cyber-bullying or the effects of the Covid-19 lockdown on domestic violence.
The Committee also wanted to learn more about the work we had been doing surrounding the impact of domestic abuse on children and the recovery of this trauma due to COVID-19. Here we presented the Cardiff Women’s Aid paper that we referenced in the written submission and advised that the paper emphasised specialist services should be prioritising children who have experienced domestic abuse but noted that whether this had happened or not was outside the scope of the paper. They were also interested to hear about other projects DECIPHER were involved with that might relate to children’s trauma as a consequence of living in homes where there is domestic violence. Here we mentioned my PhD, as evidence indicates domestic abuse as a major risk factor of CAPVA, and other projects such as the SWIS Trial, an evaluation of school-based social work that were broadly relevant. It drilled down into the systematic review of the school-based intervention (STOPDRV-GBV), asking what the most effective programmes were for preventing gender-based violence, and what has been done to tackle its drivers and root causes. We also touched upon my PhD, as evidence points to CAPVA being a gendered phenomenon with the majority of victims being mothers.
Taking it forward
The session, which ran for an hour, flew by; we all seemed to feel there was more to say! Committee Chair Jenny Rathbone MS ended it by saying she hoped the meeting was useful for us as well as them. Finding out what the Committee is interested in has indeed given us an opportunity to think about the gaps in our research and and where we might direct it in the future. For example, one question highlighted the higher risk of black and ethnic minority groups experiencing gender-based violence. SHRN data has confirmed this but as yet we have not had the capacity to hone in on the issue. The Committee also enquired about female genital mutilation and its prevalence in Wales and this is actually not something the SHRN survey has yet covered.
There is clearly an appetite within Parliament to address gender-based violence within Wales – take, for example, the Blueprint High Level Action Plan that it published in March 2023. There’s a lot of work to do, but it clearly recognises gender-based violence, in all its forms, as a real issue entrenched in our society. Hopefully our evidence will play a part in driving change.
More details on the inquiry can be found here: The public health approach to preventing gender-based violence (senedd.wales)
The transcript of the session can be found here: Equality and Social Justice Committee 19/06/2023 – Welsh Parliament (senedd.wales)
DECIPHer regularly contributes to consultations on major issues in public health and education. More of our responses can be found here: Consultations – DECIPHer.