Victims of domestic abuse will be supported through criminal court proceedings at Stranraer Sheriff Court when a new service launches on March 6th.
The new ASSIST service will take referrals from Police Scotland and other services, initially helping victims of domestic abuse from Stranraer and Newton Stewart before being rolled out across Dumfries and Galloway. Co-located with Police Scotland in Dumfries Police Office, specialist workers will build trust with service users and help them to assess risk, safety plan and navigate an often confusing and complex court system.
Advocates also work closely with other professionals in the community to make sure victims and their children have all the support they need to safely move on with their lives. The service will later offer tailored support to children who are cited as witnesses, making sure families can safely come through what can be a difficult experience with as much information and reassurance as possible.
ASSIST was pioneered in Glasgow in 2004 and is run by Glasgow City Council. It currently operates in several local authority areas in the West of Scotland and receives over 4000 referrals a year. The new service was set up in Dumfries and Galloway following a funding boost from the Scottish Government.
Trained ASSIST staff support victims where a current or ex-partner has been charged, or is likely to be charged, with a domestic abuse related crime.
Councillor Christina Cannon, Glasgow City Council's Equalities Convener, said: "ASSIST provides vital support to help victims of domestic abuse through court proceedings. The support provided has received hugely positive feedback from service users in Glasgow and the West of Scotland, so it is fantastic to see it being expanded into Dumfries and Galloway.
"The legal process can be complicated, but ASSIST helps keep people safe and supported throughout. They can provide assistance with practical issues like housing, panic alarms and liaising with schools as well as explaining the legal process."
The start of the new service was widely welcomed by professionals involved in public protection and criminal justice in Dumfries and Galloway.
Sharon McCrudden, Assistant Procurator Fiscal for South Strathclyde, Dumfries and Galloway, was hugely positive.
The senior prosecutor with the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) said ASSIST contributes greatly to improved experiences of the criminal justice system for victims, witnesses and their families.
She added: "We are delighted to see the expansion of the ASSIST service into Dumfries and Galloway and we look forward to a close working relationship.
"COPFS values greatly the advocacy and support offered by ASSIST to victims of domestic abuse. We recognise that the criminal justice process can seem overwhelming and we strive to handle cases with the utmost sensitivity.
"Working with specialist stakeholders like ASSIST helps us to ensure victims receive the help and information they need as they go through the vital process of securing justice."
Chief Superintendent Carol McGuire, Divisional Commander for Dumfries and Galloway, welcomed the new team to the area.
She said: "I am delighted to see ASSIST rolling out their service in Dumfries and Galloway and this first phase will give victims of domestic abuse in Wigtownshire the opportunity to be supported through the criminal court process. Victims show immense bravery in reporting incidents of abuse, and we know that court advocacy can support them to feel safer and more engaged with the criminal justice process. The expansion will in time give all victims in the West of Scotland the same access to support. I am also looking forward to ASSIST contributing to local partnership working to help improve the safety of victims and families affected by domestic abuse."
Hamish McGhie, Dumfries & Galloway's Independent Chair, Public Protection Committee, said: "I am pleased that ASSIST is extending their area of work to Dumfries and Galloway. Starting in the West of our region at first before rolling out across the region, the additional support to victims of domestic abuse within the justice system will make a great difference to their lives."
ASSIST stands for Advocacy, Support, Safety, Information Services Together. Further information on the service can be found here