24th February 2015
Anyone who’s worked with victims of domestic abuse knows the stories. The GP who told her the problems with her boyfriend were just post-natal depression. The A&E nurse who treated the injury, without asking how she’d got it. The housing officer who raised a repair for the smashed door without stopping to think why it was broken.
The shocking truth is this: we could stop domestic abuse far earlier than we do. There are too many missed opportunities where frontline workers don’t stop, think, and ask about domestic abuse when they’re worried about a family.
In new figures we’ve published today, SafeLives reveals that 85% of victims were in touch with public services in the year before they finally got effective help – and on average they were in touch with five services. That’s five lots of professionals who could have helped them earlier – but didn’t. And it means that victims are living with abuse for nearly 3 years before they get the right help.
Lots of victims won’t call the police about the abuse they suffer – so we have to find other ways to reach them, and get them help that makes them safe. And victims shouldn’t have to wait until there’s a crisis and the police are called before they get help.
No-one is suggesting that professionals are deliberately ignoring domestic abuse. Many are doing a great job under real pressure. They may not know how to start the conversation, what to look out for or what to do if a victim or child tells them what’s going on at home.
Around the country, some great projects are showing the way. Iris, which started in GP surgeries in Bristol and London and is now spreading nationwide, trains GPs to spot abuse, and links them up with specialists who can help victims. Many hospitals are now hosting Idvas – specialist domestic violence workers – in their A&E and maternity departments, and early evidence is that they are seeing a more vulnerable client group.
So today, SafeLives is calling on all professionals to look out for domestic abuse. Whether you’re a homelessness worker, GP, nurse or social worker – look out for the signs, and if you’re worried, ask the question. Then act. We’ve got a great sheet of top tips here to help you know what to do.
And we’re saying to everyone that wants to end domestic abuse: we have to find families where there is abuse more quickly. And we have to get them the right help - help that stops the abuse.
Too often, failed requests for support are seen as a normal part of a victim’s journey. But that isn’t good enough.
Local partners like the police and councils should make it their mission to cut the average time that victims and children live with abuse. And, working with specialist domestic abuse services, they should get out into their communities and make sure every professional knows what to do, and who can help.
So that every GP surgery, every housing appointment, every social work visit, every Citizens Advice drop-in, every pre-natal scan, every parents’ evening – all of these are chances to spot domestic violence, and get victims help faster.
You often hear the well-meaning slogan - domestic abuse is everyone’s business. Here at SafeLives, we’d propose a modification: stopping domestic abuse is everyone’s business.