Policy blog

Helping the Telegraph with some domestic abuse stats

When I tell my friends that I work for SafeLives, their reaction is often one of surprise. They don’t go so far as to say “But you’re a man” or “Isn’t domestic violence a women’s issue?” but you can sometimes see the question in their eyes.

I work for a domestic abuse charity because, even though the majority of victims are female, it is not just a ‘women’s issue’. As the slogan goes, stopping domestic violence is everyone’s business. That includes all forms of violence and abuse – physical, sexual, psychological, and financial too. It’s therefore disheartening to see Neil Lyndon playing down the prevalence of female homicide and rape in the Telegraph today.

It’s true that the stats around violence against women and girls are extraordinary. To turn Carl Sagan’s famous paradigm on its head, they are the extraordinary evidence that back up extraordinary claims. That’s why organisations like the UN, the UK’s Office for National Statistics, and yes, even SafeLives, spend time and resources getting their data right – even though we know that many victims are understandably worried about telling others about their experiences.

So you would expect Neil to provide some extraordinary counter-evidence to give substance to his extraordinary counter-claims. No such luck. Neil’s argument boils down to two main points:

  1. He doesn’t know any women who have been murdered or raped
  2. Britain’s annual sexual assault rates are low, which means the UN stats are wrong

Let’s start with that first point. Neil suggests that because he’s never known a woman who’s been murdered, it can’t be a leading cause of global premature female deaths. I am glad you do not know anyone who has been murdered, Neil – but hundreds of families in the UK aren’t that lucky, and still feel the loss of a loved one every day.

The point is this: anecdotes don’t mean anything by themselves. Neil also applies this anecdotal approach to sexual violence, arguing that he’s only ever met two women claiming to have been sexually assaulted. In his own words:

Both of them were disbelieved by their own women friends who reckoned the soi-disant victims were making up stories that couldn't be verified to dramatise their lives.

Neil, I’m not surprised more women haven’t told you or others in your social circle about sexual assaults they’ve experienced, if this is the reaction they can expect.

The second point in Neil’s argument  is so flawed that I can see why he had to include the anecdotes.

Neil’s concern is with the UN’s claim that one third of women worldwide experience sexual violence during their lifetime. He argues that 2.5% of women in Britain are recorded as being victims of sexual assault in the past 12 months and - because the experience of British women must be representative of one-third of the world’s population - that would mean every woman in the other two-thirds of the world had been sexually assaulted, which couldn’t be true.

Let’s allow Neil’s claim that Britain could be representative of one third of the world (even though the Europe, North America and the Australian continents only make up 20% of the global population).  Let’s ignore the fact that the 2.5% figure is a conservative estimate, given the problem of under-reporting. Neil has still missed a key point: the UN stat is measured over women’s lifetimes, not just the past 12 months.

 If 2.5% of women are sexually assaulted each year, the number who have been assaulted at some point in their lives will be far higher. In the UK, 20% of women aged 16-59 have been victims of some kind of sexual assault in their lifetimes. Given higher rates of sexual assault abroad and the use of rape as a weapon of war in conflict zones, the one-in-three stat is clearly plausible.

In short, Neil’s suggestion that the UN stat is “a claim which disintegrates in your hands like wet tissue paper the moment you subject it to scrutiny” is laughable.

But we’re dismayed that this denial of the widespread reality of abuse – and lack of empathy for victims – is still published on a mainstream newspaper website. Accurate statistics about domestic abuse, and violence against women more widely, are hard to come by, and sometimes harder to understand.

But measuring and understanding domestic abuse is something SafeLives is expert at. So Neil, the next time you would like to write a piece on domestic abuse in the UK, give us a call and we’ll help you out. Or you could just visit our brand new stats pages, for the latest numbers from the UK’s largest database of domestic abuse cases.  

Maybe then you’ll write a piece that’ll help victims speak up, and get help – rather than one that tells them they should be disbelieved.

By Tom.Ash

Counting Idvas – and why their numbers are rising

It’s been a good week for funding news for domestic violence services. We’ve just heard that SafeLives’ funding from the Home Office to support Maracs and train Idvas will continue – as will the Home Office’s funding direct to local areas to support Marac co-ordinators and Idva services, and the national helplines. And the Department for Communities and Local Government has just confirmed which local councils have won a share of the £10m they previously announced for housing support for domestic abuse victims.  

All of this is, though, set against a national picture where the funding available to help victims of domestic abuse isn’t close to meeting the need. It’s often split across multiple funders and not spent according to a joined-up strategy. And in recent years, many specialist services have even seen their funding cut.

The current picture of support

It can be difficult to know the exact picture of what’s out there to support victims, so, in late 2014 SafeLives decided to run our first annual survey of Idvas in England and Wales.

Over the last ten years, Idvas have transformed the landscape of domestic abuse services. Before, victims at high risk of murder or serious harm often had little choice but to go to a refuge, regardless of whether they needed to move home to become safe – and if that wasn’t the right option for them, there was little else.

Idvas are different: they work with the victim to understand the risk she faces, and help her create a plan to become safe. It’s a personal connection between the worker and the victim: each situation is different, and the Idva can work 1-2-1 with the victim to come up with a plan that works for her, manages the risk posed by the perpetrator and meets the victim’s needs.

Maybe she wants to take out a court order to stop the perpetrator returning, or needs help with mental health or practical problems like money. Maybe she’s worried about her kids and wants to get help for them too. Often the emotional support of an Idva is vital in helping the victim regain her confidence. And crucially, rather than working separately from the system, through the Marac the Idva is linked in to all the other agencies that need to help the victim become safe and stay safe – the police, housing, the council, local health services and others.

All this means that the victim gets a great service – and one that gives her the best chance of getting safe. Victims tell us they value the support from a dedicated expert who focuses on them. And nearly two-thirds of those helped by an Idva and Marac report that the abuse stops: it’s the most effective intervention for domestic abuse victims in the UK currently.

What the Idva survey told us

Over the past decade, the number of Idvas has been steadily rising. Here at SafeLives, we set up the role in its current incarnation, working with a group of brilliant small charities to pilot and refine it. And we train and support the UK’s Idva workforce: our externally-validated training is the original and the best. There are SafeLives-trained Idvas all over the UK, working every day to cut the risk victims face and make them safe.

The survey in 2014 was our first chance to really understand where Idvas were working, and with whom. We only asked about those working with high-risk victims, and we excluded those who weren’t working as Idvas, like outreach workers.   

Here’s what we found:

  • There are just under 500 Idvas working with high-risk victims across England and Wales
  • 930 Idvas are needed to support all high-risk victims in England and Wales (on SafeLives’ estimate). So we have just half the Idva capacity we need.
  • 80% of Idvas work in voluntary agencies, with the rest being employed by the public sector
  • Many Idvas are working with caseloads vastly higher than SafeLives recommends – this means they can’t always offer full wraparound support
  • 20 police force areas have less than half the required Idva capacity to support high-risk victims – and five have less than a quarter.

How many Idvas are there in each police force?

Our next steps

Over the past couple of months, we’ve written to the police and crime commissioner for each area to ask them about their plans to increase Idva capacity. Lots have responded positively, noting how valued the Idva services are by victims locally. And we’ve seen some areas really step up to the challenge: last week, the Mayor’s office for policing and crime announced funding for 40 new Idva posts in London. And in January, local partners in Essex funded an increase to 24 Idvas working with high-risk victims across the county.

The challenge now is to make sure the number of Idvas keeps going up, so that every area has enough to make sure that victims get the right help. And they need to be working alongside a great Marac, where every agency takes responsibility for making victims safe. We need every Idva to be SafeLives-qualified, and work as part of a great service which is big enough to be resilient and knows the impact it is making.

And here at SafeLives, we need to work out whether the Idva model can adapt to support other victims. We found that there are already 150 Idvas who work with medium- or standard-risk victims as part or all of their caseload. We know Idvas work for high-risk victims – and it’s obviously right to prioritise victims at the highest risk of murder or harm. But can the model work for medium-risk victims? How are those victims different, and how do we cut the risk to them? There’s some work for us to do on this – watch this space!

Here at SafeLives, we’re proud of the work that Idvas all over the country do – and we’ll always champion and support them. Or, as one Idva told us:

“We know how much we mean to victims – so often we hear ‘Thank god for the Idvas’ and ‘I’m not sure what I would have done without you.’”


How Mariella will advise a victim of domestic abuse in 2025…

Reading my Sunday paper this weekend, I came across Mariella Frostrup’s advice column. It’s classic agony aunt stuff – every week a reader writes in with their personal dilemma, and every week Mariella dispenses well-informed, compassionate advice.

This week’s column was, on the face of it, pretty typical. It was from a woman whose husband is abusing her, and she’s afraid to leave. It sounds like a bad situation. Mariella was on good form: she reassured the woman that lots of women experience domestic abuse, and gave her the best available advice that’s currently out there: call the national domestic violence helpline (0808 2000 247), and consider leaving your home and going to a refuge.

But the column gave me pause. Is that still the best advice that we can give a victim of domestic abuse?

Here at SafeLives, we think that the current best advice is just not good enough. There need to be better options for victims – and their children too. That’s what our new strategy is all about.

We hope that in five or ten years’ time, Mariella can write back to a similar victim* as follows:

“You need expert help. The good news is nowadays, in 2025, it’s not hard to get.

Tell your GP or the teacher at your children’s school, or call the police, and they’ll link you and your whole family into a great system of support in your local area. Or just google “domestic violence” and the name of your town, and the local phone number will pop up.  

A specialist will call you straightaway, and work out if you’re in immediate danger. If you are, the police will act to make sure you and the children are safe. Either they will arrest him, or they will issue a notice to make him leave your home. That’ll give you some breathing space – and you’ll know he can’t come near you or contact you.

You’ll probably be offered a meeting with an Idva – a specialist domestic violence worker - a day or two later. She’ll do a proper risk assessment, to work out how bad things are, and together you’ll make a plan to help you and the children become safe. Only the highest-risk victims used to get help from an Idva – but the feedback from the women they supported was so good that there are now enough of them across the country to help everyone who needs them.  

Your Idva will help you work out your feelings, and what you do next. And she’ll help you with practical issues too – making your home more safe and secure, or dealing with any money worries or any wider needs or concerns you have. If you want to, she’ll help you get a court order to stop your husband coming near you or the kids in the longer term.

She’ll also make sure your children get some help too – after all, they’ve been living with fear. Most areas now have great services for children who’ve seen domestic abuse – like those offered in schools by Place2Be.

You probably won’t need to leave your home, or move the kids to another school. But if you do need to move, you’ll only be in a refuge or emergency placement for a short time while the Idva and local council find you something more permanent.

All of the agencies that you need to help you will co-ordinate with each other behind the scenes. So you won’t have to tell your story over and over – and if anything happens, the police will know the situation and will get to you fast.

Once you’re safe from further abuse, your Idva will link you up to some ongoing support – maybe a course to help you understand your husband’s behaviour, or a chance to talk to other women who’ve been through similar experiences.   

And at the same time, your husband will get some help to change his behaviour. It used to be the case back in 2015 that only a few domestic abusers could get a place on a course. Now, things are different: he’ll work with a specialist who’ll hold him accountable, help him change and work to keep you and the kids safe. It won’t be easy for him, but the early results are really promising. At long last, as a society we are expecting the abuser to take responsibility – not just picking up the pieces afterwards.

Taking action for the safety of your family will be the toughest thing that’s ever been required of you. It’s an enormous challenge, but one you must rise to. I assure you that once you do find your own feet you’ll wonder why you lingered so long.”

One day, we hope Mariella will be able to write a response like that. But it’s up to us to make it happen. That’s what SafeLives and our partners are going to do – nothing more and nothing less than revolutionising the whole response to domestic abuse. If you want to be part of it, get in touch.

*We obviously don’t know the circumstances of the woman whose story featured in the Guardian, so we are responding to an outline only. If you’re experiencing domestic abuse right now, call 999 and get help – or call the national domestic violence helpline on 0808 2000 247 to talk through your options.

Together we can do so much

"Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much." - Helen Keller

Here at SafeLives, we don’t do anything on our own. Everything we do is with other people and other organisations who are just as passionate about ending domestic abuse as we are – and who are just as impatient to get it right first time, for every victim and every family.

Our job is to find out what works to stop domestic abuse – whether that be about how we spot it early, how we help different groups of victims or how we shape systems locally. When we find something that we think could make many more victims safe, we take it, test it, refine it and write it up. Then we create all the training and guidance that you need to start doing it tomorrow.   

That’s what we did over the last ten years with the Dash risk assessment checklist, with Idvas, and with Maracs. And that’s what we’re going to do again as SafeLives in the next ten.

It also holds true in what we recommend. At the heart of our approach is co-ordination – the idea that all the agencies responsible for keeping victims and children safe must work together, so no-one falls through the gaps.

So everything we do is in partnership. Our partners on the frontline test the ideas alongside us, and come to us for ideas about how to up their game. Our partners in local government, healthcare and the police rely on us to recommend how we all work together – and for an honest opinion when they’re not doing enough. And our national partners look to us to help set the policy and funding frameworks to help us end domestic abuse. Read more about our partners.

So it was wonderful to get so many supportive messages about our new name yesterday. Here’s a selection:

The home secretary, Theresa May MP:

“Domestic violence and abuse shatters lives. I commend the work SafeLives has done over the last 10 years to highlight this appalling crime and am proud to have worked with them on improving the support and coordinated protection available to victims of domestic abuse through the establishment of Idvas and Maracs. It is extremely encouraging that 60 per cent of victims report no further violence following intervention by an Idva.

“Their work to make sure victims are identified as early as possible, and that they and their children are supported to live in safety, has been vital in the ongoing campaign to end violence against women and girls."

The shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper MP:

“I send my very best wishes to SafeLives. The work they have done over the last decade has made such a difference in transforming the response to domestic abuse, ensuring better and more coordinated support and ultimately, changing lives.

“Labour is determined to ensure tackling violence against women and girls is at the very heart of Government and I look forward to continuing to work with SafeLives to make that happen and to end the scourge of domestic abuse.”

Nick Alston, PCC for Essex
Saskia Ritchie, from Cheshire Without Abuse 

Citizens Advice

Esmée Fairbairn Foundation

Eleri Butler, CEO of Welsh Women’s Aid 

My Sister’s Place 

Polly Neate, CEO of Women’s Aid

Tom Rahilly, head of strategy for looked after children and families at risk, NSPCC

The Dash charity 

Thanks to everyone who emailed, tweeted, commented on our Facebook profile or congratulated us at our national conference yesterday. We’re looking forward to working with you as SafeLives! 

From Caada to SafeLives

You may have noticed some changes around here as we moved over from Co-ordinated Action Against Domestic Abuse to SafeLives.

But why did we change? Firstly, it was because Caada was hard to say and spell, and given that was what most people called us, it didn’t really explain what we do.

But more importantly, calling ourselves SafeLives tells the world what we’re all about. Nothing more, and nothing less, than every family being safe from domestic abuse.

Our ambition is clear in our new strapline – ending domestic abuse. It’s always been our mission, and now we’ve put it front and centre. It may take some time, but we won’t stop until every family is safe.

For the medium-term, our goal is unchanged: in the coming three years, we want to halve the number of families living with domestic abuse.

For the last ten years, Caada focussed on improving the response for just high-risk victims specifically. High-risk abuse is the most dangerous kind: it’s women (and some men) living with a very high likelihood of murder or serious harm. There are 100,000 victims in this situation – living every day in fear, suffering violence and abuse. And it’s 130,000 children, watching the people they love being terrorised – and often being directly abused themselves.

And we’ve had considerable success. Every area now has a Marac, a meeting of all the right professionals working together to make victims safe. And most high-risk victims are supported by an Idva – a domestic violence specialist who works 1-2-1 with the victim, listening to her and putting together a tailored plan to make her safe. In 2005, when we started, just 500 women got this sort of specialist service. Last year, it was more than 70,000. And 2 in 3 victims who’ve got help this way tell us the abuse stops.

But to have a bigger impact and stop more families being abused, we realised that we need to do more. 

That’s why we changed to SafeLives. It expresses our ambition – and our new wider remit.

We want to change the system for every victim, at every level of risk, and for their children too. We need a whole system change – not just isolated interventions, and a postcode lottery.

So, starting now, SafeLives will work for all victims, at all levels of risk, and their children. And we will work out how to change perpetrators’ behaviour too.  

It’s a big job. Our job is to find out what works – and what doesn’t. Then we’ll turn it into a programme that you can pick up off the shelf, modify for your area, and roll-out easily, knowing that it’s based on evidence. Over time, we’ll transform the whole response to domestic abuse in every area of the UK.

It’ll take a while (we think at least ten years). But we’re up for it. And, as you’d expect, we’ll do it in partnership with everyone who, like us, is passionate about ending domestic abuse.

It’s time to create the system that works for every victim, and every child. SafeLives is all about making sure all families become safe, and stay safe in the long-term.

There’s an interesting few years ahead. We hope you’ll join us on the journey.