The Eden House Project provides a unique service to women involved in the criminal justice system across Bristol. They have signed up to Bristol Zero Tolerance to link this in with the work that they are doing on the nine pathways which are linked to reducing offending behaviour. We spoke to Katie Kwidzinski, their Pathways Coordinator, and Rosie O’Hagan, Women’s Services Manager for Bristol, Gloucestershire, Somerset and Wiltshire Community Rehabilitation Company, to find out more.
Eden house is a women-only day centre in Fishponds, providing specialist, holistic services to women from Bristol and South Gloucestershire who are involved with, or at risk of becoming involved with, the Criminal Justice System. There are currently over 200 women accessing services at their day centre, and Eden House will be expanding their outreach to deliver support from a hub in South Bristol, linking women in with suitable services in their community. Women get to Eden House through different routes, some are managed by Eden House under a Community Order or Licence following release from custody, others are referred by agencies such as Children and Young Peoples’ Service, GPs or Mental Health practitioners. Women can also self-refer in to the Freedom Programme which provides support for women currently in a violent or abusive relationship or who have a history of this.
The interventions provided by Eden House are based on evidence of what works to help women live safe, offence free lives. ‘Wrap-around’ support services address attitudes, thinking and behaviour; accommodation; drugs and alcohol; children and families; health; education, training and employment; finance, benefit and debt; abuse; and sex work.
Gender-based violence is often a key issue for many women. As Rosie explained “many women’s offending is linked to some kind of trauma they have experienced in their life or are continuing to experience. We are trying to support women in their recovery through interventions such as the Freedom Programme to help them understand what has happened to them and, refer onwards to specialist support.”
Many of the women that they work with also “have had or are experiencing a range of mental health issues and some struggle to engage with community resources. They are helped with this at Eden House by staff, and also by peer mentors, some of whom will have had similar experiences.”
Rosie notes that at Eden House “what is really valued is that when women have completed their statutory supervision they are offered further support because we realise that their issues may not be resolved within a fixed period of time. There may be ongoing difficulties, and it’s important to be able to access community resources which staff can direct them to, and offer encouragement to consolidate the learning they have gained here. That’s really important.”
For Rosie, signing up to Bristol Zero Tolerance “fits perfectly with the work that we do because that’s really our message that we say to every woman that comes through the door – that it is not acceptable, you are never to blame for the abuse that you have received no matter what the perpetrators have said to you, it is unacceptable, and it is your human right not to be abused – so that actually supports what we are doing here and our beliefs and values.”
Therefore, a Zero Tolerance City would be “a place where abusers/men don’t feel it’s o.k. to abuse women. I think there’s a whole spectrum from inappropriate behaviour and suggestions, to more serious actions. Onlookers have a responsibility not to collude and to feel able to challenge and to support others who feel that they are being harassed or are at risk of abuse.”
As Katie adds a Zero Tolerance City would be somewhere women can feel safe and “that they don’t need to worry if they are walking past a building site or getting home really late at night or walking in certain areas and at certain times of day. I don’t think women should have to worry about that at any point, and women feeling confident that if something happens to them that they don’t think is right, that they can report that and they will be supported. They don’t have to keep quiet about it or feel ashamed or guilty about it. There is a way for them to get help and they know about it and they can access it easily without fear of judgement.”
It is this victim blaming culture that needs to be addressed and as Katie notes “specifically women in the criminal justice system are judged much more harshly, literally they are – they get longer sentences for similar crimes, but also they judge themselves because it’s seen as ‘you’re a woman, you should know better than to do that’. It’s almost acceptable for men to behave in a certain way – they are seen as a ‘lad’, ‘it’s a silly thing to do but whatever’, but it seems much less tolerable for a woman.”
But for Rosie change is possible “if you think about Zero Tolerance for example with smoking… it is now socially unacceptable to smoke in a café in the same way that Zero Tolerance would mean that it would be equally socially unacceptable to harass a woman and other people would be able to interject.”
As a women-only space safety is a key aspect of Eden House and they have a specific day and time when men can come into the building, for example for meetings with other agencies, which are planned when the Freedom Programme and other support services are not running. This is a great way to create safe spaces and something that other organisations could also do. Rosie and Katie hope that being part of Bristol Zero Tolerance will develop these conversations and benefit staff as well as service users. As Rosie notes they will be “exhibiting the pledge so that it is there for everyone who comes into this building to read, and also opening up discussion and having a dialogue, not only with our service users who come through the door, but also with colleagues and within the organisation. And thinking also about what we could do more as an organisation, what can we do to support staff…” With an all-female staff team based at Eden House, and mainly women working in Probation services, this is an important aspect of Bristol Zero Tolerance and something that we look forward to working with Eden House and others on to ensure that everyone is aware of gender-based violence issues and can get the support they need.