New guidance has been published on supporting survivors of domestic abuse and other women in danger to vote safely, after this important role was extended to nurses and midwives.
The Royal College of Midwives guidance, launched today, was drawn up in response to changes in government regulations, making it easier for people to apply to be anonymous on the electoral roll.
“I am really pleased that the regulations have been extended to include midwives”
Electoral anonymity is available to anyone whose safety could be under threat by having their name and address published, including women who have experienced domestic abuse and those fleeing modern slavery, and so-called “honour” crimes.
Under the new regulations, the list of professionals able to support a person’s application has been extended to include midwives, nurses and doctors – some of the professionals considered most likely to come into contact with victims of abuse.
Previously, this process of “attestation” could only be done by people in relatively senior positions such as superintendents of police or directors of social services.
The new rules came into force in England, Wales and Northern Ireland earlier this month and will apply in Scotland from 1 April.
“Domestic abuse often starts or intensifies during pregnancy and postpartum”
The RCM guidance, which was developed with the support of the Cabinet Office and the Electoral Commission, sets out how anonymous voter registration works and the role midwives can play in helping women exercise their democratic rights without fear of harm.
The document – titled Supporting Survivors of Domestic Abuse to Register to Vote – also includes information on keeping clients’ information safe.
Midwives already play a key role in screening women’s safety and offering support. The guidance encourages them to help women with anonymous voter registration whenever possible.
“Any appropriate opportunity to support women with anonymous voter registration should be taken,” stated the new document.
“You should keep in mind that many women do not want to repeat their abuse experiences or their fears to different professionals,” it said.
It added: “Women may ask you to be an attestor for them, while others who are at risk may not know they have the option of anonymous voter registration.”
“I am grateful to the RCM for providing new guidance, which could help thousands more survivors”
RCM director of midwifery Louise Silverton urged midwives to read the document. “In this year celebrating 100 years of suffrage, I am really pleased that the regulations have been extended to include midwives,” she said.
“They are often the first professionals a woman may have to talk about issues such as domestic abuse. Midwives are ideally placed to offer support,” she said.
Rheo Smith, a safeguarding midwife at University Hospitals of Leicester, also welcomed the rule change and new guidance.
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“We are aware that domestic abuse often starts or intensifies during pregnancy and postpartum,” she said. “This guidance will not only raise awareness for those suffering abuse, but enable midwives to support and safeguard women at a very crucial time in their life.”
The guidance was praised by Chloe Smith, minister for the constitution at the Cabinet Office and Conservative MP for Norwich North.
“I am grateful to the RCM for providing new guidance, which could help thousands more survivors of domestic abuse register to vote without the fear of revealing their address to abusers,” she said.
She added: “It’s fitting that we are making it easier for survivors to exercise their democratic rights, in the year in which we mark women who passionately fought for these rights 100 years ago.”