Practice blog

Making domestic abuse services accessible to LGBT+ people

Aaron Slater is a SafeLives accredited Service Manager, based at Sacro, and is responsible for Fearless, a domestic abuse support service for anyone who identifies as a man or as part of the LGBT+ community. Running since 2015, Fearless is a partnership between Sacro, LGBT Youth Scotland, Shakti Women’s Aid and the Men’s Advice Line. A team of nine domestic abuse caseworkers provide one-to-one support across 19 local authority areas in Scotland. It is funded by the Big Lottery Fund until 2019.

Creating domestic abuse services that are truly accessible to the LGBT+ community isn’t as straightforward as a statement of inclusion on a website. In fact, there can be something inherently passive about simply stating that a service is inclusive. Inclusion doesn’t mean that the needs of the LGBT+ community are moulded into the service that already exists. True inclusion and accessibility means that the service is adapted to fit the needs of the community. The process needs to be pro-active, not passive.

Statements are not enough

A good starting point for any service should be a frank discussion about what LGBT+ inclusion means for them, especially single sex services. There is great diversity within the LGBT+ community itself, with intersecting identities and expressions. If you are inclusive of Trans people, what does this mean to your service, and does this inclusion cover all the support interventions that are available to cisgender people? What about gender non-binary people and those not protected under the Equality Act?

Unpicking the rainbow

Once you have a sense of what LGBT+ inclusion means for your service the process of improving accessibility can begin. Set up a project group or identify champions within your service to take a lead role in this piece of work.  Start out by establishing a benchmark. Compare your intake data for the past 12 months to general population datasets, identifying where your gaps are. Create an improvement plan that frames accessibility not as something that gets clients through the door, but as part of their entire journey with your service, and beyond.

Accessibility is a process

LGBT+ people will be more likely to engage with your service if you are explicit in identifying them in your promotional materials. If there’s any ambiguity in your outward messaging, then there is a risk that LGBT+ people will revert to the default that they are not included. Donovan and Hester highlighted the ‘public story’ as an obstacle to LGBT+ people recognising domestic abuse and seeking help. As domestic abuse services, we can challenge these perceptions through clear and inclusive messaging.   Make sure that the language and imagery you use across all your materials is consistent with your position as being LGBT+ inclusive. Be aware of how gendered pronouns are used to describe victims and perpetrators as this may alienate people in same sex relationships, creating an impression that LGBT+ inclusion is an ‘add-on’ rather than the core of what you offer.

Don’t just tell LGBT+ people that they are included in your service, show them

Consider your client’s journey through your service. There are small but effective changes that you can make to improve accessibility and engagement:

  • Empower staff by having a clear policy on LGBT+ inclusion and support this with training and development. First impressions count, so everyone in your service should be confident in providing a consistent response.
  • Create an online survey to engage with the local LGBT+ community and understand their experiences and needs, and use this to inform your practice.
  • If you have the budget, create specific leaflets or posters, and if money is an obstacle create online resources for use on social media and your website.
  • Display promotional material in LGBT+ spaces, but not exclusively. Many LGBT+ people won’t use LGBT+ only spaces.
  • Confidently ask about sexual orientation and gender identity at intake. It takes the burden of having to ‘come out’ away from the client and will help build confidence in your service.
  • Don’t make assumptions. If a male client refers to a female partner don’t assume he is heterosexual, he could be bisexual.
  • Ask people what pronouns they prefer. It isn’t offensive to ask the question, and you could include this as standard in your intake forms for everyone.
  • Work collaboratively with local LGBT+ organisations. Consider doing a training swap, or deliver drop-in clinics together in LGBT+ spaces. Use the expertise available locally.
  • Respect the right to privacy of LGBT+ people who are not out, especially when undertaking multi-agency work.
  • Be aware of specific risks to LGBT+ people without making generalisations or stereotypes that could lead to them disengaging. The SafeLives Dash has guidance notes on each risk indicator that include specific dimensions relevant to LGBT+ people. 
  • Don’t create an expectation that you cannot fulfil. Be mindful of how you use the term ‘LGBT+ inclusive’ and the diversity of identity in this community.
  • Get specific feedback from your LGBT+ clients on how you could have improved accessibility.


*’LGBT+’ in this blog may refer to the wider LGBT+ community or to individual identities within the community, depending on how it is applicable to each service

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Trauma-aware practice and strengths-based working: the benefits of Outreach training

Briony has been working in the Learning and Accreditation team at SafeLives for five years, training on our Idva, young people’s practitioner and outreach courses. Here she talks about the benefits of our upcoming Outreach Expert training course taking place in May for anyone working in the domestic abuse sector.

Last week I was back in the training room delivering the first block of our Foundation training for Outreach Workers. This is the second time we have run this course, following a successful pilot last year. Although we originally developed this training with the needs of those doing outreach work in mind, what has become clear since the pilot is that this course can help to develop practice for any role in the sector. It covers trauma-aware and responsive practice, strengths-based working, resilience building and holistic needs-based support planning, which are all incredibly useful skills for anyone working with those affected by domestic abuse, regardless of their job title.

This year, we are really excited to be working with expert specialist services such as Domestic Abuse Housing Alliance (DAHA), Surviving Economic Abuse (SEA) and the Domestic Abuse Money & Education (DAME) project, to ensure that we are giving the most up-to-date information on supporting clients around complicated issues such as housing and economic abuse.

I spoke recently to a learner who attended last year’s pilot. I asked her how she felt the training had influenced her practice in the year since she began that course and this is what she told me:

"The whole course was fantastic. In particular, I found the trauma work really useful and I have used a lot of the material when working with my clients. It is important that they have an understanding of the impact of trauma on the brain.

"The way the information and materials were presented was extremely easy to understand and it helped me on a personal and professional level. The information provided around legal orders has also helped me offer a more productive service to my clients; within a week I had supported a client to remove her ex-partner off her tenancy.

"I came away from the course feeling much more confident. I had always provided a professional service to my clients but after the course I feel that my support is more comprehensive, allowing me to think outside of the box when presented with complicating factors. I always think back to session discussions and refer to my handbook."

We have the 4-day Expert version of this course running in May, for those who have previously completed one of our 12-day courses, and there are still subsidised spaces available. For any Idvas, Ypvas or other practitioners looking for CPD to enhance their practice, I would really recommend they consider this.

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Sexual violence in GBT relationships

Luke Martin is a consultant primarily focusing on working with male and LGBT victims of domestic abuse. Luke worked as an Independent Domestic and Sexual Violence Advisor (Idsva) for eight years. He has also worked extensively for and with Respect, including on the national helpline for male victims of abuse, The Men’s Advice Line. Luke currently trains on SafeLives’ Idva accreditation course, DA Matters (a change programme for police responders) and Respect’s ‘Working with Male Victims’ training programme. Luke has consulted for organisations such as SurvivorsUK, the national male rape and sexual violence service and worked on campaigns such as the Home Office’s ‘This is Abuse’ campaign. 

Figures from the Men’s Advice Line show that men in same sex relationships are more likely to disclose experiences of sexual violence and abuse within intimate relationships. It is unclear as to whether this is because men in same sex relationships are more likely to experience sexual abuse, or because they feel more comfortable talking about it.

To some extent we see men in same sex relationships experiencing sexual abuse in a similar way to that experienced by heterosexual women. Men might experience unwanted touching, sexual assault or rape within their intimate relationships. What we might also see is more experimental or risky behaviour. Whilst working as an Idva and Isva I supported men whose partners encouraged them to access a sex scene that they did not feel comfortable with. This may have been sex at saunas, chemsex parties or encouraging or initiating threesomes or group sex. As with much abusive behaviour, victims often engaged with the request to appease the perpetrator and manage the risk of harm to themselves.  

Gay and bisexual victims might be encouraged to use party drugs, or may have chosen to use substances of their own volition. This may have also formed part of a grooming process that we might see with an older perpetrator and often younger, more vulnerable victim. Drugs such as ketamine, G (GHB), mephedrone and crystal meth are being used, inducing a euphoria and reducing inhibitions to such an extent that the user might have little idea who they are having sex with, let alone if it were safe. Perpetrators might introduce the use of these substances in the intimacy of their own homes, on a one on one basis with their partner then might encourage the victim to access these substances for free through chemsex parties.

Of concern is that when substances are used, a sexual assault or rape may take place and the victim not know. Substance use might also stop victims feeling able to disclose sexual assault or rape; there are many societal myths and victim blaming attitudes associated with victims being under the influence of drink or drugs. This is only compounded when the assailant was an intimate partner as it doesn’t fit the ‘image’ of who perpetrates sexual offences.

Historically HIV status has been used as a form of abuse, including disclosing someone’s HIV status. In 2017 the case of R v Rowe saw a young man purposely infecting other gay men with HIV, some of whom identified as being in a relationship with Rowe. However, with the increase in access to pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) we are progressing in managing the transmission of HIV – although we might see withholding medication as a form of abuse.

We might see the use of experiential power in same sex relationships. This might be more prevalent in first relationships but could be used at any point. Experiential power is the use of experience to dictate how something should be. Somebody who has been out as a gay or bisexual man has more involvement within the LGBT scene or a wider network of LGBT friends, and might use that experience to set the rules of the relationship. When we explore this in the context of sexual abuse this might include introducing third parties in to the relationship, encouraging unprotected sex  or introducing sexual practices that the victim might not feel comfortable with.

Across the board our education system is failing young people in teaching them what healthy relationships look like. For those areas that are doing this well, it predominantly focuses on heterosexual relationships. Young LGBT people, as with all young people, are increasingly looking to porn to educate themselves on what their relationships should look like, and we know that this is not healthy. Gay porn often shows sex taking place between several people, modelled on a dominant and subservient relationship which impacts on young G, B and T people’s experiences of healthy sexual relationships.

As well as education on healthy and unhealthy relationships, it is vital that we increase routine questioning around domestic and sexual abuse. More and more sexual health clinics are carrying out routine questioning as are many health departments. However, professionals can feel ill-equipped in dealing with these kinds of disclosures. It is at this point that additional training might be required. Local authorities as well as local domestic and sexual abuse services might offer training in upskilling workers to support such disclosures.

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If you're a man experiencing domestic abuse, you can call the Men's Advice Line on 0808 081 0327.

Galop run the national helpline for LGBT+ people experiencing domestic abuse: 0800 999 5428


A week in the life of a specialist LGBT Idva

Birmingham LGBT is an award winning charity delivering services to the LGBT community in Birmingham. The organisation has grown significantly since its inception and in January 2013, Birmingham LGBT opened the first LGBT Health and Wellbeing centre in England and Wales. The centre is fully accessible and runs a number of services including sexual health, wellbeing, older people's services and a specialist LGBT Idva service.

The LGBT Idva service has been running for several years now and helps to support anyone who identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender who is experiencing abuse from intimate partners, ex partners or family members. They also offer support around forced marriage and 'honour'-based violence. 

Sajida Bandali is a senior LGBT Idva at Birmingham LGBT.


No time for Monday blues. As I enter the office I receive a call from one of my new clients who is distressed. She identifies as a trans woman and has just fled to the UK. She fled from her country of origin facing persecution from her family and community. Her crime? Not being born female. Her punishment? Violence in the name of honour.

My client made an asylum application and has been housed by G4S. Last night she experienced a transphobic hate crime from a fellow housemate. She is utterly disappointed as although she can finally be free to live as a trans woman in the UK, she has experienced abuse in the first week of her stay. She had been yearning to finally be addressed as her preferred pronoun; she. To finally openly dress the way she wants, without fear of harassment and abuse. Sadly, high numbers of transgender people still experience hate crime, despite increases in public awareness and legal advancement in LGBT rights.

I make arrangements to transfer my client into alternative accommodation and liaise with the police to report the hate crime. I also book an appointment for her to receive support from my colleague who is a Trans outreach worker.

I then check for any new referrals that have come in over the weekend and spend the rest of the day completing case work.


This morning I am out of the office promoting our service at a health event. 

As I arrive back at the office, my client is waiting at reception for his appointment. He’s an elderly gay man whose much younger male partner is financially and physically abusive.

My client is vulnerable with a number of health problems. He has very little means to support himself, as his state pension is used by his partner to fund a drugs habit. My client was part of the generation where being in a relationship with another man was a criminal offence. He is very sceptical of services and is apprehensive about reporting incidents of abuse to the police due to past homophobia.

Barriers can deter all victims of domestic and sexual abuse from seeking help. For LGBT victims, there are additional barriers. The Birmingham LGBT Centre is therefore a safe space for him to make disclosures and receive support. He is very isolated which adds to his dependency on his relationship. In his eyes, endurance is better than isolation. After thorough safety planning today, I discuss community groups for older LGBT people, to reduce his isolation. 


Our midweek client is being seen at a GP surgery to preserve anonymity. The client is a young woman who belongs to a prominent family in a tight knit religious community. The closet remains tightly shut on her lesbian identity, for she fears shaming her community.

Hiding her sexuality has been difficult and it is having a detrimental effect on her mental health. She has been signed off work due to poor mental health after being ‘outed’ by her line manager. Sadly, she recently took an overdose.

Her siblings were each taken abroad and forced into marriage. Consequently, we are concerned she may also be at risk of forced marriage and 'honour'-based violence. After safety planning, we arrange safe housing for this client and her partner. Now that she is also engaging with mental health services, we are hoping her road to recovery is in hand.

Wednesday ends with an unexpected international call from a former client. We learn that he resumed the relationship with his abusive partner and has moved abroad. We reiterate safety planning and provide details of getting support abroad.


Today we have our weekly nurse-led sexual health clinic. The clinic offers services such as confidential testing and treatment for STI’s, HIV rapid testing and advice and support.

One of the workers has informed us that a client has disclosed domestic abuse. He reveals he left his unhappy heterosexual marriage and came out as a gay man. He was ostracised because of his sexual orientation and was prevented from seeing his children. Due to feeling isolated, he became heavily involved in the ‘chemsex’ scene. Participants at chemsex parties use drugs such as Mkat, crystal meth, mephedrone and GHB during sexual encounters. This can be risky as sometimes protection is not used and  injecting equipment and paraphernalia may be shared during intravenous drug use. It is also concerning as people in coercive relationships may be pressured or threatened into participating.

The client disclosed that he contracted HIV during this time in his life and has struggled to manage his condition due to poor mental health and chaotic relationships with men. After safety planning and offering the relevant support, he is referred to our specialist chemsex worker and local drugs service. Due to the client’s financial circumstances, the rest of the day is spent applying for the very few remaining financial grants.


It’s the end of the week, but still very busy. I am helping out on reception and the Centre is bustling! Many LGBT people are estranged from their family of origin, or have to hide their identity from them. Therefore, the LGBT community is their family. Today we have a clinic on for people who identify as transgender, a social group for LGBT asylum seekers and a yoga class.

One of our Idvas is at the Crown Court today supporting a young client for a GBH trial. This is his first same sex relationship. His partner would frequently make him question his sexual identity and reinforced that no one would believe him if he reported the abuse, and that he would experience homophobia through the court process. 

Leading up to the trial, we have worked with him to understand the dynamics of power and control using an LGBT adapted version of the Duluth power and control wheel. After a lot of reassurance and confidence building, he has decided to give evidence today. 

The close of play brings in a vulnerable woman cradling a crying baby. She has disclosed abuse from her female partner and requires respite. It is a race against the clock but we manage to contact relevant services and find her safe accommodation. We book her a taxi reassured that she can be safe over the weekend.

The Idva cape is then hung up, awaiting duty for the week to come.

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A night with Police Scotland

Lucy McDonald is SafeLives’ Training Development Officer for Scotland.  In November, as part of the 16 Days of Action campaign, Lucy accompanied Police Scotland on a night shift to see first-hand their response to domestic abuse. 

On a cold November night, when I would usually be enjoying the comforts of home, I found myself in the back of a police van, along with fellow domestic abuse specialists from ASSIST and Hemat Gryffe. As part of Police Scotland’s 16 Days of Action to end violence against women and girls campaign, we were invited by Detective Superintendent Gordon McCreadie, Police Scotland’s national lead on domestic abuse, to do a night shift to give us an insight into how the police respond to domestic abuse. 

First stop was a tour of the Contact, Command and Control Centre in Glasgow, one of several such centres in Scotland which takes 101 and 999 calls made to police. Led by a white-ribbon wearing Chief Inspector host, we were taken firstly to the Service Centre where the calls come in.  A bustling room, we immediately got a sense of the sheer scale of the task at hand. It was 7pm, a quick check on a screen told us that since midnight there had been almost 3750 101 calls, 800+ 999 calls and almost 200 other emergency calls. We asked, of course, about domestic abuse calls and were told that in a 24 hour period the previous weekend, there had been 187 calls and that on an average day they received 161.

Under the old regional systems, prior to the formation of a virtualised Service Centre, there were a finite number of telephone lines into each individual Service Centre. This meant that a single incident, such as a road traffic accident on one of Scotland’s busy motorways might attract dozens of calls from the public tying up the limited phone lines whilst other parts of the country were quiet and had capacity. So, if you were a victim of domestic abuse needing urgent assistance at the same time, there was a chance your call might not get through because of the peak in demand.  Now, with the National Virtual Service Centre approach there is much greater capacity to handle calls from across Scotland so callers are more likely to get the right response first time. We found out that almost all 999 calls are answered in less than 10 seconds, most far quicker, and the majority of non-emergency 101 calls were being answered within 40 seconds.

A night with Police Scotland

We were quickly directed over to a Service Advisor who was taking a call from a woman reporting domestic abuse. The sophisticated system showed immediately that the woman had called earlier in the night, but the emerging picture was now becoming concerning and the handler upgraded the call to a Priority 1, which meant a response team would be dispatched immediately. In the Area Control Room next door, we were shown the process of dispatch, watching in awe as a police officer skilfully worked her way around a complex system using electronic mapping to identify the closest, most appropriate officers in one sub-division to multiple jobs based on location and competing priority levels. 

Now 9pm, it was time to see things on the ground so we piled back into the van for the short drive over to one of the police hubs in Paisley, just in time for the start of a new shift. We got a briefing from the Inspector overseeing the shift, who explained their approach to domestic incidents and their determination to keep the quality of response high at all times.  He admitted this was challenging at times, mentioning a home nearby where there had been 128 police call outs. 128. A chronic cycle of a woman being subjected to ongoing physical violence and coercive control, periods of separation and reconciliation, amongst other criminality and alcohol abuse. The challenge, he said, was to ensure that his team never became desensitised to the risk of harm to that woman.

Back out in the van, as we took to the streets and admired the pretty Christmas lights in the town centre, my mind kept returning to the woman who had called the police 128 times. Was she looking forward to Christmas? Was she full of hope, or full of fear and despair? I could guess the answer. 

As the night got colder and the streets got icier we listened to the airwaves, which were unexpectedly quiet. There was some activity about a possible missing person, but that died down. We wondered if everyone was at home, keeping cosy. 

And then a report came in. It turned out to be the 129th call of the woman I’d been wondering about. Her ex-partner had been released from custody earlier in the week and she thought she’d heard someone rattle her letter box. As we turned the van and started to make our way to the address the Inspector told us they’d had a similar call from her earlier in the week and it had turned out to be neighbours.  A woman on high alert, I thought, waiting for the next incident. I pondered the kind of response she would get tonight from the cops who’d been dispatched - were they thinking ‘here we go again…’? When we reached her street, the answer was obvious. The patrol car was already there and the officers were making their way into her house. We waited anxiously in the van across the street. Then we heard an update and request on the radio – there was no sign of her ex-partner in the building but could a check be made of street CCTV footage from the last hour to assure the officers on movements in the area? Fortunately this came back negative. Twenty minutes later the cops emerged having offered reassurance to the woman that they have become so familiar with, the woman living in a heightened state of anxiety and coping the only way she can.

Shortly after this, we called it a night after what had been an insightful experience with fellow police and domestic abuse colleagues. And as I drove back to the warmth and comfort of my home, I reflected on the events of the night. I was aware that domestic abuse accounted for at least 20% of police business (over 58,000 incidents recorded in 2016/17), but seeing the stark reality of call volume first-hand really hits home the scale of the problem.

I already knew that victims of domestic abuse will be subjected to physical and emotional abuse for years before getting the right support. Indeed, in Whole Lives we found that people experiencing the highest levels of domestic abuse in Scotland will wait an average of four years before accessing or being directed to the right form of expert intervention. What I saw first-hand that night was Police Scotland doing the best they can to respond and reassure, make the appropriate referrals, apprehend perpetrators when they can. They did what they could to support the woman who called them so regularly, and there was much I didn’t know about her circumstances: was she in engaged with local domestic abuse services, did she have an Idaa1 supporting her, had she been referred to Marac2, or was her partner at MATAC3

In the last decade we’ve seen major changes in the response towards victims of domestic abuse and how perpetrators are managed, by Police Scotland and other key organisations. We continue to see changes and progression, such as the anticipated Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Bill which will create new offences around coercive and controlling behaviour. However, alongside these improved processes and systems, the most effective response requires partnerships between both statutory and voluntary services, and an approach that combines belief and validation for the victims’ experience alongside practical and tailored intervention led by the victim and tailored to their needs and risk. This also means being creative about what we can offer to everyone experiencing domestic abuse, regardless of who they are, their circumstances and whether or not they have been able to leave the relationship.  

And we need this in a way that is consistent across every part of Scotland. Granted, there are great examples of this in locations across Scotland, but at the moment it very much depends on where you live, what is available to you there and which services are working together. That is what needs to change, and only through positive collaboration can we make this happen, only together can we improve the wellbeing and safety of families experiencing domestic abuse across the country, reduce the volume of those experiencing domestic abuse and the time it’s taking them to receive effective intervention. 

Thank you Police Scotland for inviting us into your world.


About Lucy McDonald

With a background in psychology, Lucy began supporting children affected by domestic abuse, before moving into refuge and then settling into domestic abuse advocacy. She began working with SafeLives in 2006, supporting the development and delivery of numerous training and accreditation activities across the UK including Idva, Marac and Leading Lights. Most recently she has been heavily involved in implementing the Idaa training programme, as well as programmes for Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal ServicePolice ScotlandNHS Health Scotland, the Caledonian System and a variety of teams and services across Scotland. Her expertise is in safe and effective responses to domestic abuse including risk identification, multi-agency collaboration and whole-family safety planning.

1Independent Domestic Abuse Advocate

2Multi Agency Risk Assessment Conference

3Multi Agency Tasking and Coordinating