Policy blog

Opening up the conversation: why engaging men and boys is so important

Josh Taylor is a Research Analyst at SafeLives, working primarily on Drive - our innovative programme in partnership with Respect and Social Finance, which addresses the behaviour of high-harm perpetrators. He is also the research lead on a new project, gathering the voices and experiences of men and boys.

I’ve been working in the research team at SafeLives for more than five years. When I started I didn’t know much about domestic abuse. I knew what it was, but I wasn’t aware of the sheer scale of the problem. Every year, it’s estimated over two million adults in the UK suffer some form of domestic abuse. I have learnt so much working in the sector and continue to learn even now.

When I decided to write this blog, I mentioned it to my mum. She had been in an abusive relationship when I was about 10. It’s odd, because even though I have been working in the sector for so long, I have never really thought of this as my story, or how it may have affected me.

The abuse that we suffered was mainly coercive control. Everything was fine before we moved in. Then the little digs started. He always had to be the ‘big man’ and wanted me and my brother to be the same. He was also an alcoholic, and when we moved in his drinking got worse, to the point where he would be driving us places while drunk. The final straw came when he tried to use me and my brother against our mum. We had been due to go on holiday, but my mum no longer wanted to go due to his drunken behaviour. When mum was out he tried to convince us that she was evil, that she was the reason for the arguments and she was the reason we weren’t going on holiday.

My mum found out about this and told us that we didn’t have to live like this, we can leave if we want to. So we did. Mum phoned our grandad and he came and picked us up. We stayed with my grandparents for a few days, and then lived with friends for two or three months while my mum tried to find us somewhere to live.

The strange thing is I barely remember any of this. I have two memories from this time: one of my mum shouting at him, clearly in distress, and the other of us waiting outside for my grandad to arrive. With both memories I don’t know what happened before or after. Because I couldn’t remember, I’ve never really stopped to think about how this experience might have affected who I am today.

I believe that domestic abuse is a societal issue, and it is only by working together that we will be able to make the changes needed to end domestic abuse for everyone. That’s why I’m so excited about the new strategy that SafeLives has set out on, and why I’m particularly excited about this new project.

Through this project we’ll be starting a conversation with men and boys. We know that we cannot reduce harm and end domestic abuse without bringing men and boys into the conversation. As I know from my own experience, domestic abuse is experienced by men and boys. This could be as children in the home, as young people and adults in heterosexual and LGBT+ relationships, and in the potential for child to parent abuse.

Evidence also tells us that men and boys are more likely to harm other people and to harm themselves. In order to start to understand why this might be we’ll be asking men and boys about their attitudes towards relationships, masculinity and gender roles.

The information and the voices we gather will help to inform our work, with the ultimate aim of ending domestic abuse. There is already a lot of great work going on in this area from the likes of Respect, the ManKind Initiative as well as a number of academics and we’re pleased to be working alongside them. Together we can end domestic abuse for everyone, for good.

By JoshT

The difference a truly supportive employer can make

Suzanne Jacob is Chief Executive of SafeLives

In the last six months my dad has died and my mum has had a stroke. I don’t write about it here for sympathy or to expose family grief, but instead to explore what I’ve needed from my employer during what is still one of the most difficult periods of my life to date. It might seem odd for a charity CEO to talk about their ‘employer’. Afterall, aren’t I the boss? In reality my employer manifests in multiple ways, particularly in our Chair of Trustees, and – because we’re a small, mission driven organisation – in my relationship with the staff team. So this is my attempt to address some of my lessons learned to employers and team members in other organisations – whether voluntary, public or commercial sector.

Over the last ten months I have needed a great deal of flexibility from my employer. I have had to arrive at meetings late and leave early. I have disappeared ‘home’ 200 miles away at short notice. I have been teary in the office and had to decide how much to say about why, and I’ve worked weird times of the day and week instead of more traditional hours. I’ve checked my phone a great deal and I’m sure that multiple times I’ve looked and sounded distracted and not at my best.

Not all of these changes to my professional life would have been acceptable if I worked somewhere else. I know that. Layer that up, then, with the possibility that members of your workforce or team might need comparable levels of flexibility for less easily explicable reasons than prostate cancer and stroke.

What if, instead of common, normalised physical health issues, my behaviour in the workplace was due to the fact that I was trying to sustain myself in safety while someone systematically tried to attack it? If I wore trousers to cover cigarette burns on my legs, or I needed time off to go to court, wearing what I wanted to, what I really wanted to, for the first time in several years?

I warmly welcome the steps major UK employers such as EY and Vodafone are taking to provide their staff with compassionate leave, to deal with domestic abuse they might be experiencing or have experienced. What’s vital, as they do so and others consider it, is to think about how you create a culture in which it’s ok to ask. A couple of years ago, I spoke to a police officer who had initiated significant change in her force about the response to officers who had experienced abuse. She noticed that although they had a reasonable looking policy, there was no record of anyone having accessed it. Ever. What she realised, as she spoke to her colleagues, was that officers and staff were afraid of a set of perceptions that might be levied at them if they disclosed their situation. Melani, one of our own team and herself an ex-police officer, talks about that in more detail here.

Police officers aren’t alone in this. In another instance, I was told that the only trigger for a woman finally telling her employer what was happening outside work was because she was being put on formal performance management measures for poor attendance and inattention. Fearing the loss of her job – her only way to retain an income and the prospect of changing her situation – she took a giant leap of faith and spoke out. She disclosed to someone she barely knew, because she saw in her colleague’s diary an upcoming meeting with SafeLives. She thought it suggested someone might listen, and help.

Companies we speak to are understandably nervous about their role. Many organisations still don’t have a culture in which talking about cancer, mental health problems, or divorce would be a normal part of conversation, so how can they possibly facilitate a process of opening up about abuse? I understand that. And yet, the prize is worth it. Being able to say with authenticity that yours is an organisation where people are supported – appropriately, meaningfully supported – makes you somewhere people will want to be. And want to be their best.

Find out about training for employers

Our Response to Sunday Times editorial on the Sally Challen case

The UK Government is four levels deep into Brexit. Almost no other legislation is even being contemplated, never mind progressed. And yet, despite these facts, the Government stubbornly presses on with pre legislative scrutiny for the Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill, published in draft a few weeks ago. Why? Because Ministers, and Parliamentarians from all sides of the House of Commons, still have room for agreement. Extreme swings to this or that position seen in Brexit haven't so far derailed this work, neither the legislation nor the funding and other surrounding effort. 

In that spirit of commitment and aspiration - that domestic abuse is a subject worth understanding and talking about - victims and survivors notice. They notice that someone is taking their life and their experience seriously.

Sarah Baxter writes that the term 'coercive control' has become fashionable. It's tempting to say that's what's been 'fashionable' for some time is writing pithy polemics that use caustic wit to minimise human misery and the complexity of certain crimes. 

Coercive control is one such complex crime. Its victims say time and again that they don't speak out 'because what would I say?' They know that the types of small, seemingly nasty but not criminal behaviours are actually a cumulative pattern of behaviour intended to entirely destroy another person's sense of self. Their confidence to be in the world. Self harming and suicide ideation amongst victims and survivors is incredibly common. But those on the outside might see no more than a slightly dysfunctional relationship. 

It's not that jolly, is it? It's difficult to think of and easier to make jokes about. But the police, CPS and judiciary are learning not to misjudge this crime. They see the humans behind the headlines and slowly things are starting to change. 

We’re presented with a major opportunity to stop hiding things we're afraid of behind closed doors. Let's not blow it for cheap gags and naive assertions. 

A Valentine's Message: Melani

This message was shared with us by Melani, a survivor of domestic abuse and SafeLives Pioneer.


I remember  being happy to work a late shift on Valentine's Day when no one else wanted to because they wanted to be at home with their husbands.

I thought, because he told me to think.... that I should feel happy that he was still there, in the house, living with me and our sons, because he had so many better options.

Now I know myself and our boys were his best option... only he didn’t deserve us, he hurt me and let his children down.  His violence and abuse did that.

Now I can't wait to spend those special days with my new husband and my now grown up sons love being with their partners on Valentine's Day.

If you prefer to work this Valentine's Day because you are scared at home, tell someone, ask them for help to escape.  You and your children deserve to feel safe at home.

We need your love. Donate the cost of a card or a cheap bottle of fizz, and help us to end domestic abuse this Valentine's Day 

A Valentine's Message: Vicky

This message was shared with us by Vicky, a survivor of domestic abuse and SafeLives Pioneer.


Valentine’s Day. 

Smiling couples, pictures on Instagram saying #blessed and the gifts and cards expressing endless love. 

But I see you. 

The false smile, the tears hidden behind your well practised pretense and the invisible scars etched on your brain from yet another put down. 

Love shouldn’t hurt but it does for you and love seems broken. 

I see you, I was just like you and I wish someone had told me this. 

You are beautiful, important and deserve to be free, you are enough and you are not alone. 

Now you see me, I’m the secret support the person you fear doesn’t need to know about. I am the voice in your brain willing you on, willing you to put one foot in front of the other. I will never ask you to fake a smile or pretend to be happy, I will encourage you to be the person you want to be.  

Love is hard but love should never hurt. 

Vicky xx










We need your love. Donate the cost of a card or a cheap bottle of fizz, and help us to end domestic abuse this Valentine's Day