Policy blog

Bold For Change: Skye Binning's Boxing Challenge

Today is International Women's Day and the theme is #BeBoldForChange. Natalie Grant, Senior Communications Officer at SafeLives talks to Skye Binning about her boxing fundraising challenge that's taking place on Wednesday 15th March. 

Hi Skye. It's great to hear about your boxing challenge. How are you finding the training?

This has been one of the toughest emotional and physical challenges I have ever set myself but by far one of the most rewarding. It's an amazing way of harnessing pain and anger and releasing it with positive effects on all fronts. I will definitely continue after my fight. 

What's your motivation for this challenge and why did you decide to fundraise for SafeLives?

In 2008 I experienced first hand the impact that violence, emotional and physical abuse, abduction and rape have on a person's life. It has been an ongoing battle ever since but I think the work SafeLives do on the domestic abuse front, but also in other areas, is so important in allowing survivors the opportunity to move on with their lives safely, supported and with hope. 

The theme for International Women’s Day this year is #BeBoldForChange. What does this mean to you? 

For a long time I suffered in silence with massive consequences. By speaking up about my experiences and fighting for this cause (quite literally) I hope others who are scared of talking about their experiences might be able to find the courage to speak up too. If being bold helps even bring about that change for one person - amazing!

To find out more about Skye's challenge and to support her please visit her JustGiving page.

It's time to be bold: how can we use tech in the fight against domestic abuse?

In July 2015, Emma Murphy posted a video of herself on Facebook after she'd been beaten by her abusive boyfriend. Today, it has been viewed 10 million times with 23,000 comments. Many of these comments come from women who want to share their own stories; intimate experiences across geographical boundaries. Their connection is that they know what it's like to live in fear of a partner or ex-partner. They know what it’s like to experience domestic abuse.   

We hear frequently that the internet is a scary place. Every week, we read stories of trolling, revenge porn, online bullying and harassment. This abuse is not new, perpetrators simply have more tools at their fingertips. But if they have new ways of inflicting fear, we must have new ways of overcoming it.   

Digital technology is an undervalued resource in our fight against domestic abuse. The internet and social media remain confusing places for survivors and the services set up to help them. Who has actually read Facebook’s privacy policy, or kept up to date with the numerous changes about how our data is shared? Who understands what the implications are when we use our Google account to login to another website, or sync our devices?    

And so, instead of developing the knowledge we need, all too often we tell women to simply ‘leave’. Survivors of domestic abuse, who may already feel isolated from friends and family, are told by well meaning police officers or others trying to support them to ‘get off Facebook’ or ‘delete Instagram’. This is the digital equivalent of doing what we’ve always done: telling women to ‘just leave’, putting the onus on them to change their lives and uproot themselves from networks and communities. This seems preferable or easier somehow to dealing with the person actually causing the problem – the perpetrator. It also invests the internet with a fear factor, though the internet has no more inherent danger in it than a home – it's the people who inhabit it who determine how safe or otherwise it feels and is.  

If we ask women to abandon membership of their online communities we're taking them out of the world. The average person in the UK checks their phone around 150 times a day. We can’t end domestic abuse by hiding women away: on or offline.     

Instead, the internet needs to be harnessed for good, as a safe way to provide the connections and resources needed to be independent, connected and informed. What would you want for your best friend? What would you want for yourself?  

We recently carried out a major piece of research (funded by Comic Relief, in partnership with We Are Snook and Chayn) and found that survivors find it hard to locate quickly enough the information they need – to identify their partner's behaviour as abuse, and to find out what their rights and options are. This is the stuff that ensures women can make their own decisions and take back control, but we've hidden it in a maze of individual agency websites built for our own organisations' purposes. We need to radically rethink and improve how we deliver information. Whether or not the site carries our particular branding should be completely irrelevant.   

Tech can also be used to help protect victims and hold perpetrators to account. When it isn't safe to store physical evidence or attend in-person appointments on a given day, how can we use the cloud to store evidence away from our devices, or use single click technology to get a police officer to the door in minutes?     

We want survivors to be able to connect to others who have gone through similar experiences. The internet can be a sanctuary, to talk to others and know that it can and does happen to anyone, help is available and life can be better. As a a SafeLives Pioneer survivor said 'there's an army of us out here, and we want our voices heard.'  

We know 9 out 10 professionals see tech as part of the solution. So the next step is to get support to pair up specialist tech for good organisations with frontline professionals, to increase confidence and knowledge so that we can turn tech to our advantage. 

The days of conferences in dusty halls aren't gone, but if we rely on them forever we'll only ever support a fraction of the people we can reach online.  

We don't have all the answers. However, in undertaking this research and building tech solutions to connect, we have started to play our part in exploring how digital can help end domestic abuse for women today and tomorrow. As a sector, we are behind the times. Perpetrators have worked out how to use technology to inflict fear. It's time to fight back.  

A cup of tea with: Susie Price, head of Research, Evaluation and Analysis

Ruth Davies is the Communications Officer at SafeLives. In this series she'll interview a different team member every month - over a nice cup of tea.

Susie Price is Head of the Research, Evaluation and Analysis (REA) team. 

Ruth: Hi Susie. So can you tell me a bit about your background and how you came to be at SafeLives? 

Susie: I’ve been directly involved with SafeLives for the last four years, but before that when SafeLives was CAADA I was working as an Idva so I was very much aware of their work. My involvement started when I was one of the lead trainers on the Children and Young People’s Ypva training programme. I then did Idva training and various other bits and bobs as an associate, then came on board as a trainer. I did that for about ten months, before I was seconded across to work on the Drive project [the perpetrator programme SafeLives is working on in partnership with Respect and Social Finance]. I then moved to head of REA in January.

What are you looking forward to in the year ahead? 

It’s an exciting year for REA. We’re at a point where we’re ready to take on a lot of new challenges. One of the things I’ll be focussing on over the next few months is our Insights tool. We’ll be working with services, commissioners and Idvas, to really understand what services need and what they use Insights for, to make it the best it can be. The team are all really invested in it and it’s a really exciting project.  

Obviously we’ve got lots of other exciting things happening across the organisation. Having been so heavily involved in Drive it’s great to still be involved on the evaluation side of things and see how the cases are going. I think when you’ve worked in the sector for as long as I have – I’ve worked in domestic abuse for about 17 years – now being part of this team where we’re trying new things and being innovative and courageous, that’s exciting in itself whatever role I’m in.  

Finally, what are you most proud of in your work with SafeLives? 

It sounds a bit noncommittal but I’m very proud of all of it! I’ve been really fortunate to be involved in some great things, and been given the freedom and autonomy to express my passions and put my own stamp on things – always as part of a bigger team.  

Drive has been amazing. In the past I’ve worked with families, I’ve worked with refuge and lots of areas across the sector. So suddenly being in a position where we’re developing a response to the people actually causing the abuse, shifting that focus from “why doesn’t she leave?” to “why doesn’t he stop?”, that’s been amazing, I’ve loved it. I’ve really enjoyed the dynamic nature of it – it’s felt a bit chaotic at times! – But the creative process has been wonderful. So those are definitely the things I’m most proud of being involved with.  

As an organisation we’ve done some great things, and it’s been so wonderful to walk alongside others and be involved in this work. I'm proud to work for an organisation that has integrity, courage and that strives to change the landscape of response to victims, children and perpetrators of domestic abuse.   

A cup of tea with: Diana Barran, SafeLives CEO

Ruth Davies is the Communications Officer at SafeLives. In this series she'll interview a different team member every month - over a nice cup of tea.

Ruth: So, could you tell me a little bit about how you came to found CRARG [the first incarnation of SafeLives] and what your motivations and approach were at that time?

Diana: Years ago I was working for New Philanthropy Capital, a charity that advises donors and grant makers on which charities to give their money to. On one occasion I asked some of the children’s charities we’d given to: “If we hadn’t given you this grant, who should have got it instead?” My criteria were that it should be the biggest human problem that was the hardest to raise money for – and all three of them said domestic abuse.

So what was the next step?

I went and visited a whole range of different domestic abuse charities, big and small as well as spending time with the police, children’s services and domestic abuse coordinators. I’m a believer that when you’re coming to something from the outside you can see it very clearly – whereas when you’ve been involved with something for a long time it can become overly nuanced and complicated.

I was very struck that the overwhelming focus at that time was on safeguarding women and children by taking them from their homes and giving them shelter in a refuge. I knew that if I’d been in that situation there was no way I could go into a refuge with my three teenage boys, so I thought ‘what do we do about those women who can’t go into refuge?’ It was clear that refuge played a vital role but that women needed more choices and options.

At SafeLives we always work with what we call the ‘best friend rule’; if your best friend was experiencing domestic abuse, what would you want for her? We decided that it’s a single person to talk to – which is the Idva – and that they should be an advocate for you with all the different statutory agencies – via a Marac. The third principle was that in a world without enough money, you have to start with the victims at highest risk of serious harm or murder. We wanted to make the case that it was a human, practical and cost-effective approach – that should be available wherever you are in the country. For the first ten years we focussed almost entirely on rolling out that model.

At what point did you realise that your approach was working?

When we did our first Idva training course, it was in a tiny room – the learners had to crawl under the desks to get to their seats – and I’d dragged the course materials across London in two wheelie suitcases to avoid paying for a taxi! Before the first course was over we’d had enquiries about running a second course. We then had a massive waiting list for about the next five years. It became clear that we’d tapped into a real unmet need for recognition in the sector. The last day of the first course was very emotional, it felt like a real landmark moment.

How do those early years relate to the strategy now?

From the beginning what’s always worked for us is the combination of practice, data and the voices of victims and survivors. What we do has changed, but how we do it is the same – I think we’re at our best when those three things work together. For example the Cry For Health report. That came out of the practitioners and the researchers sitting down together, looking at our Safety in Numbers report and saying “We’ve got a few referrals from hospitals, and they seem to be very different kinds of people to the other referrals. We need to look at this some more.”

What excites you the most about where we are now?

I think our vision of the whole family response is incredibly exciting. I think we’re at the most creative phase that I can remember since those early years. We focussed for a long time on implementation and now we’re in a real creative phase again. I also think it’s so exciting to be working in partnerships – almost everything we’re doing is in partnership, and I think we’re going to learn so much, and hopefully share some things too. The other thing which makes me smile, is that we’ve got some amazing people. If you look at the quality of people we’re bringing into the organisation at the moment, as well as those who have been with us for years, I sometimes have to touch wood to believe it’s all real! So I think it’s the combination of creativity, partnership and people that makes this moment so exciting.

Finally, what keeps you going? What makes you feel confident that we’re on the right track?

If you look at who is working alongside us to deliver our big projects, we seem to have the confidence of some incredibly thoughtful and experienced funders, really busy other charities who are already doing a huge amount of great work, and amazing sector professionals. When I walked out of the Cry for Health launch, I felt a real sense that we were part of a movement. Being part of something bigger feels very positive. I also think that our commitment to being very brave in the way that we work with our survivor Pioneers, and the trust they place in us, is extremely powerful. My amazing colleagues have such brilliant human instincts around how we work boldly but respectfully with people who have been through immense trauma. The relationship we have with our Pioneers just makes me grin from ear to ear. 

Speaking the same language to reach the same goal

When Standing Together recently published the Domestic Homicide Review (DHR) Case Analysis – it was clear that there are huge failings in agencies identifying risk successfully, and a lack of understanding of control and coercion. Such findings are common, but no less depressing and urgent because of how many times we read them. We want to make things better, working with agencies, charities, and survivors to make sure we have the best tools to provide a quality, tailored response that saves lives.

No profession is perfect; there is no organisation immune to the fact that people are fallible. But when those organisations support survivors of domestic abuse – that variation in quality can have life-threatening implications.

The Dash was developed in order to go some way to counter this. To provide a useful and uniform tool that could help everybody to identify risk – whatever their background or expertise.

It means that we speak the same language. If we believe in a multi-agency, holistic response to domestic abuse – and we do – it is a lot more effective if each agency not only has a common goal, but a common understanding of how to get there. If a police officer talks about whether a woman is pregnant, if a midwife asks whether the perpetrator has used an object or weapon in the home, we are successfully working outside of our silos. We are creating an understanding that reflects the complex nature of abuse, not our own professional agendas.

The Dash is not the answer to everything; it does not replace professional judgement or empathy. On its own, it does not change behaviour and culture. We know it takes more that that; we are staunch believers in high quality training to create change, such as our programme with the College of Policing: DA Matters.

Disclosure of domestic abuse is not predictable. It cannot be summarised with tidy flow charts and linear decision making. Survivors disclose in all manner of ways to a huge range of people. Creating a tool available to everyone means that all professionals can easily and quickly identify risk in challenging and changing circumstances.

The Dash makes the links for professionals between overt criminal and coercive behaviours, suicide, substance misuse, separation, child contact, pregnancy and fear.  Of course it is not a magic wand. It will not stop people from taking short cuts, or give them the confidence to ask sensitive questions. It’s guidance; it prompts risk thinking and provides consistency.

The Standing Together report reminds us that we have so much more to do so before we all have the same understanding of risk. A common tool is surely an essential part of making that a reality.