We need to take domestic abuse as seriously as national security

Discover how experiences in the Cabinet Office Briefing Rooms can inform domestic abuse responses and why it’s time to prioritise safety behind closed doors

Of the ten years I spent working in government, some of my fastest and most effective learning came from working in the underground bunker known as the Cabinet Office Briefing Rooms, or COBR. This time taught me a huge amount about the way people work under pressure, and how a world class response to threats to life comes about by hard work and commitment, not by accident.

Of the time I spent in COBR most was in ‘exercise’ mode. That is, a simulation of a terrorist incident through which multiple parts of government, blue light and sensitive agencies work together in response to a steady feed of information that comes to them over the course of 2-3 days.

People say that government and even the UK’s front line responses can be slow, that big institutional juggernauts can’t be turned quickly. It just isn’t true. Nor is it true that silos and turf wars between different parts of a response are inevitable. Because we ‘exercise’ the national security response, investing time from hundreds – sometimes thousands – of staff, from specialist bomb disposal to Ministers, environmental experts to traffic cops, we have a response that reflects i) a culture that works together at pace for safety ii) an operating model with highly refined guidance, practised and practised and practised again.

We know a minimum of 100 adult lives were lost to domestic abuse last year. Those were the adult homicides, a very high proportion of them women. We don’t have accurate figures for the adult suicides or the deaths of children in domestic abuse situations, nor do we know how many people using abusive behaviours took their own lives. So 100 is a highly conservative figure for the human loss. The figure has hovered stubbornly around the same level for years.

I know we can’t operate at the tempo COBR does all year round to get domestic abuse deaths down to zero. I know that isn’t a sustainable model for response. But I also know that until we offer even a small proportion of the time, money and attention we spend on national security to our right to be safe behind closed doors, we’re accepting abuse as inevitable in a way that’s utterly unthinkable for harm that happens on our streets.

SafeLives doesn’t have a bunker and we can’t get thousands of professionals exercising for a 72 hour period. We can, however, bring some of the urgency, low tolerance and sheer bloody-minded won’t-let-this-happen-again determination to a quiet corner of Westminster this Thursday afternoon. I’m delighted that a Minister and nearly 60 senior professionals have chosen to join us for the afternoon. The incredible spirit that prevails in the COBR bunker has been forged in adversity. So for the horrific adverse experience that domestic abuse represents, and the threat to life it presents: if not now, when?

You may also be interested in

Woman looking out over balcony

Children and young people

Find out more about Safe Young Lives our programme of work across the UK to reduce the risk experienced by young people and to improve the care pathways they can access.

Insights data

Datasets from our Insights system on Idva services, outreach services, children accessing domestic abuse services and sexual violence services.