Policy blog

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.

I kept hoping someone would ask…

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.

A taster for Wednesday….

On Wednesday we are holding our annual national conference with the theme of ‘Getting Right First Time.’ We will be looking at different ways to respond sooner to victims, children and perpetrators. Our keynote speaker in the morning with be Dr Eamon McCrory from UCL who will talk about the impact of domestic abuse on the brain development of young children. In case you want a bit more information about this – and the wider impact on the health of adults.  See this TED talk from Dr Nadine Burke Harris with some amazingly powerful messages.

Ok, maybe more than a taster….this talk has had 320,000 views already.