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.