Domestic abuse response in the UK

From risk to recovery – the risk-led approach to domestic abuse

Right now, around 80,000 people in the UK are at the highest risk of being seriously harmed or murdered by their partner. And they’re not the only ones at risk – almost 100,000 children live with this abuse too.

Every victim and survivor should get the right help at the right time to meet their needs.  Our approach is founded on the belief that people at the greatest risk of death or serious harm as a result of domestic abuse, should get the most urgent help. This means every victim at high risk should have a dedicated domestic abuse professional (an Idva – independent domestic violence advisor – or an Idaa – independent domestic abuse advocate in Scotland) who can understand their risks and needs and implement a personal safety plan which reduces the risk from the perpetrator and increases safety for them and their children  And it also means the Idva works together with other professionals and frontline services to protect them and their whole family.

Since SafeLives was founded two decades ago, we have transformed the help available for victims at risk of murder or serious harm. We’ve trained more than 3,300 Idvas and Idaas– independent specialists who help victims become safe. And we have supported the police, social services, health, education and other professionals to work together to cut domestic abuse, setting up a Marac meeting (multi-agency risk assessment conference) in every area.

This approach works: over 60% of victims and survivors who get help from Idvas and Maracs tell us that the abuse stops1Saving Lives Saving Money 2010. And that means it saves lives. 

What is an Idva?

An Idva (Idaa in Scotland) is a specialist domestic violence professional who supports survivors of domestic abuse. Their job is to make them and their family as safe as possible. They stand side by side with survivors and make sure they get whatever help they need.

Idva stands for Independent domestic violence advisor. Experts in domestic violence, Idvas prioritise victim safety in every aspect of their work.  They provide vital emotional and practical support to victims and survivors, to reduce the risk posed by the perpetrator. They understand what other agencies do and walk alongside victims, dealing with everything from getting an injunction, to sorting out money, to having the locks changed. Their job is to advocate with the aim of reducing the risk posed by those who harm and make sure the survivor and family are safe and able to recover and rebuild their lives.

Idvas may work for independent charities, councils or other organisations like Victim Support or Women’s Aid. Much like a nurse, they can work in many different areas and specialisms, and across a range of risk levels. Many are located out in the community – such as in hospital A&E departments and in court, or in outreach roles in specialist services.

The impact of an Idva

Following support from an Idva service, at the closure of their cases, the majority of survivors reported cessation of each type of abuse:

  • Physical abuse (79%)
  • Sexual abuse (88%)
  • Harassment and stalking (60%)
  • Jealous and controlling behaviour (63%)

84% of survivors reported feeling safer

73% of survivors felt their quality of life had improved

Person filling out Dash risk checklist form

My initial contact with the Idva was earth-shattering. She asked very specific questions in exactly the right areas and I couldn’t believe how much she understood my situation.

Jane*, victim of domestic abuse

Multi-agency risk assessment conferences (Maracs)

Marac meetings work out how to help people who are at the highest risk of murder or serious harm as a result of domestic abuse.  In 2022-23, almost 114,000 cases were  were discussed at Maracs across the UK, involving around 145,000 children.

Idvas, the police, children’s social services, health and other relevant agencies sit around the same table, chaired by a senior professional. They share relevant, proportionate information about the survivor, their family including any children, and the perpetrator. The meeting is confidential.

Together, Marac participants write an action plan for each survivor of domestic abuse. Everyone present commits to taking the agreed actions. The Idva advocates for the survivor, holds the other agencies to account on their behalf, and ensures that afterwards they understand what is being agreed.

Marac stands for multi-agency risk assessment conference. Almost every area in England, Wales and Scotland has one, and they are spreading throughout Northern Ireland too.

More on Maracs

How we know this approach works

We know this approach works because victims tell us so. High-risk cases are often very complex and can escalate over many years – or just a few months. Following support from an Idva:

  • Incidents of high severity harm reduced by over 75%
  • 54% of victims said they felt much safer
  • 83% of victims said their quality of life had improved

The work to be done

Since 2007, SafeLives has trained more than 3,300 Idvas. There are currently around 800 full time equivalent (FTE) Idvas in post, but this is not enough – and not all of them have been trained. This means that some families living with high-risk domestic abuse don’t get support, and many Idvas are trying to help too many families at once.

There are Maracs in almost every local authority area in England, Wales and Scotland, with an increasing number in Northern Ireland, but they aren’t always working as well as they should. Sometimes the right agencies aren’t around the table, or the action-planning isn’t good enough.

After living in constant fear, victims deserve to be supported in a way that works. They shouldn’t have to leave their homes to be safe.  Children need to be supported too. And perpetrators and those who harm should be challenged to change.

Full and sustainable funding for Idvas and Maracs and the wider domestic abuse response needs to be in place right across the UK to make sure families receive high quality help, wherever they live.

Blurred image of a library, focus is on a blue book hanging out of the shelf.

Research library

Find out more about why the risk-based approach to domestic violence works, and read our recommendations for policymakers, commissioners, service managers and practitioners, in our research library.