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PROJECT AIMS TO TRANSFORM HOW JUSTICE SYSTEM DEALS WITH SEXUAL VIOLENCE AND LEARNING DISABILITY

Posted 09:50AM on Tuesday 28 January 2020

Our pioneering project to support people with a learning disability who have suffered sexual violence has produced a new guide to help them navigate the criminal justice system.

The JustUs project, led by Positive Futures working with a range of agencies, has also produced a screening kit for police officers to help them determine if the victim of a crime has a learning disability.

The guide and toolkit includes a website, an animated video, an easy–read guide to the justice system and a card which people can give to the police explaining who they are and how they communicate best. The findings were presented at an event in Parliament Buildings, Stormont. Sir John Gillen, who led a major review of the criminal justice system’s handling of sexual crimes, was the keynote speaker. 

The two–year project, funded by DRILL (Disability Research on Independent Living and Learning), was led by two people supported by Positive Futures and two people supported by Compass Advocacy Network and involved the PSNI, the Public Prosecution Service, Queen’s University Disability Research Network, Nexus and Informing Choices NI.

The Chief Executive of Positive Futures, Agnes Lunny, said: “When we started this project, we were amazed to discover that there was no available breakdown of sexual violence figures to indicate how many victims had a learning disability, but our investigations suggest that this group may be disproportionately affected. Our main concern when we started was that the trauma of those affected was being compounded by the complexity and lack of understanding in the justice process. We hope the outcome will be to establish best practice where it has not existed before.”

Jackie, one of the four Project Advocates who gathered evidence and spoke to those affected, explained why she volunteered for the role: “Sometimes people with learning disabilities don’t have their voice heard. I wanted to speak up for myself and other people with learning disabilities. Our human rights should be equal to everyone else’s.”

The project provided a training session for 20 people from the PSNI and PPS to help them better understand the needs of people with learning disabilities. A screening system for first response officers and call handlers to enable them to determine if someone has a learning disability is being tested this year.

A counselling programme developed by Positive Futures and Nexus during the project was evaluated by researchers from Queen’s University.

The easy–read guide for those affected is available in four languages, while the JustUS card to aid communication can be carried in a wallet or purse. The website is www.justusni.org.  

Pictured: Sir John Gillen with our Chief Executive, Agnes Lunny, at the launch event.

PROJECT