Reaching hidden victims of domestic abuse: hospital Idvas

“If someone else asks you about abuse, like at a hospital or something, it might make you think about it, and if they tell you where the support is it might make you think about leaving the relationship.” – Janet*, victim of domestic abuse

Although all agencies should have a responsibility to identify victims of domestic violence, our evidence shows that the majority are being identified by the police. This often means that families endure abuse for longer, or are missed altogether. 

Since 2012, SafeLives has been collecting data on the support offered by Idvas working in hospitals. Known as the Themis project, we set up the study to test whether health services might be one of the missing links in identifying those victims who are hidden from other agencies, like the police.

What we know so far

  • Clients are often hidden from other agencies: only 59% of hospital clients had made reports to the police compared to 73% of non-hospital clients
  • Victims are reached at an earlier stage: 39% of hospital clients are still living with their abuser, compared to only 26% of non-hospital clients
  • Abuse is more severe: the prevalence of physical and sexual abuse and jealous and controlling behaviour is higher in hospital clients
  • Clients are younger: 19% of hospital Idva clients are aged under 20 years old, compared to 9% of non-hospital Idva clients
  • Twice as many clients have complex needs: hospital Idvas’ co-location and relationship with health professionals in these fields may contribute to the higher rate of disclosure of complex needs, and may facilitate victims’ access to a complete package of support

These services provide a safe location to disclose domestic abuse to a trusted health professional at an earlier stage in an abusive relationship. We estimate that 10,000 high risk victims of domestic abuse who are unable to access help through the criminal justice system could be supported each year through an improved health care pathway.

Co-location of Idva services in hospitals also provides easier access to on-site services which benefit these vulnerable victims, for example drug and alcohol, mental health and safeguarding nurse teams. In this way victims are offered a complete package of immediate support.

The work to be done

Co-locating 150 extra Idvas in A&E and maternity units will create a platform of sustainable national provision from which further cost savings could be realised. These services should not replace Idva services in the community, rather they should complement and reinforce them, allowing the model’s overall potential to be more fully realised.

 “I left when I was 17 weeks pregnant, because you know you’re not just putting yourself in danger but your baby too... you have to stay healthy and safe for them.” – Sarah*, victim of domestic abuse