20th October 2015
How would you respond if someone told you “I’m being abused”?
It’s a question that we should all reflect on – because as Citizens Advice’s new research shows, those who experience domestic abuse are much more likely to tell a friend or family member than anyone else. And even for those of us who work in the domestic abuse sector, it isn’t always an easy question to answer.
But we do all need to have that answer ready – because for the 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men who experience domestic abuse at some point, it could be life-saving.
That’s why SafeLives welcomes Citizens Advice’s campaign to get people to talk about abuse. We know from our research that professionals in most cases will miss five opportunities to spot domestic abuse before the victim eventually gets the specialist help they need to stop it. This is a huge gap in the identification of abuse – one which we and other domestic abuse charities work hard to fill by helping organisations improve their response. But friends and family can help to bridge it as well, by knowing what constitutes abuse and having the confidence to talk about it.
Even in an ideal world where professionals got it right every time, there would still be room for friends and family to play their part – there are many victims of domestic abuse who simply aren’t visible to services. In situations like this, we need to think outside the box and engage whoever we can to spot the abuse and help stop it.
This is especially true when it comes to particular groups, such as BAME and older people, who are often in abusive relationships for longer and are less likely to be in contact with services. From research we know that the length of abuse is 50% greater for BAME victims at risk of serious injury or murder – compared with white British or Irish victims – and a quarter of victims aged over 60 have been in an abusive relationship for more than two decades.
These are frightening statistics which need to change. It is vital that we equip people with the knowledge of what to do and who to ask for help if they suspect someone is living with abuse, be it a neighbour, a friend or a relative. Anything which builds public understanding of domestic abuse, such as this online tool, is helpful in this regard.
Furthermore, by giving people the confidence and tools to spot abuse and do something about it in their personal interactions, we improve the odds that they will be able to transfer this awareness into their professional lives. For every person who Citizens Advice’s campaign reaches, it scores a double victory: one when they notice their friend acting oddly around her partner, another when they ask to see the domestic abuse policy at the hospital where they work.
The truth is, even though domestic abuse has been receiving more and more media coverage in recent months, there is still not enough public awareness of how we can intervene as individuals. Many of us would be paralysed with uncertainty about what we could do if a friend told us that she was being subjected to violence at home. Citizens Advice’s campaign to change that is therefore a welcome and timely addition to the fight against domestic abuse, one which we fully support.