Policy blog

Sarah*'s story

Sarah* is a professional woman in her twenties who is now living safely and rebuilding her life after domestic abuse. She has shared her story with us in the hope that by raising awareness, we can help others to recognise that they are experiencing abuse and access support. 

“What does love mean to you?” I once asked my ex. Perhaps it was a rather intimate question to be asking over Skype but we were so comfortable with one another – it felt right. Also (to tell you the truth) I was keen on getting to know the intelligent, charming medic who had recently appeared in my life. He was based abroad so unless he flew out to visit, this was the closest I was to being with him and I wanted to know everything about him.

Despite his intelligence he wasn’t sure.

“I’ve not really thought about it much… love is love right? How about you? Maybe I’ll have to get back to you on that one.”

Little did I know that give it two years and I’d know exactly what love and relationships were all about to him. Three words: power and control. The last thing I would have ever thought love could mean.

Emotional, financial and mental abuse was the mainstay of what I was to endure after moving in with him. Isolated already as I’d moved to a foreign country, he still felt the need to limit contact with my family and friends. He had an abundance of excuses as to why I should be careful about the information I shared and who could visit us. Some of the most outrageous were people using black magic to try and separate us and a relative of his who might try and kill us. Though I didn’t understand most of it, he was always “trying to protect me”, and it was his “love” for me driving him to behave this way, which somehow made it more acceptable.

Through all the confusion and lies about finances, family and our relationship I felt I was losing myself. I found myself anxiously juggling everything to try and ensure I was being the best I could be to resolve the difficulties our marriage was facing. I communicated this confusion to him, little did I know that the more questions I asked, the more his tactics would escalate. Ironically the more I did for our relationship, the more he expected and these expectations were always changing.

There came a point when I came to know that this man who had vowed to commit to me and build a future together, saw me as merely an object. I had no priority in his life and our future family would suffer the same fate. This shattered me from the inside however the day he admitted it, gave me an entirely new lease of life. Empowered; I took some time out to process his confession. Something I hadn’t considered was that I wasn’t going to be allowed to come home to him thereafter. I unintentionally escaped his control and because of this he decided to cut me out of his life. Since that day I haven’t stepped foot into our marital home again.

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen him and we don’t talk. If you had told me this a few years ago I would have told you that I couldn’t live without him and that it would be impossible.  It was strangely painful, but it wasn’t impossible. Through all the pain; I have gained far more than I ever thought I would. My voice is finally heard again. My beliefs and choices are wholly my own. I have a career. I have friends. Through my healing I’m learning to love myself more each day. I’m free. 

If my story resonates with you the one thing I want you to take from this is that you’re not alone. There is help available and there is always someone who will listen. Also you must remember that if you are in an abusive relationship, the perpetrator’s behaviour isn’t a reflection of you, their actions are a reflection of them. You are not at fault in this. You are worthy and deserving of true love. A love that is kind, sincere and liberating.

*Name changed for safety

If you're worried about your relationship, feel scared of your partner or are concerned about a friend, help is available. You can call the National Domestic Violence Helpline (run in partnership between Women's Aid and Refuge) 24 hours a day on 0808 2000 247 – if you're in immediate danger always call 999 and ask for the police.

The other royal engagement

We were very honoured yesterday to welcome HRH the Duchess of Cornwall to visit a group of survivors and Idvas working in Stoke Royal Infirmary, as well as some terrific members of the clinical team. Perhaps not the Royal engagement that was most in the headlines yesterday, but a very important one all the same. 
Some of you will know that the Duchess has decided to try and raise awareness about domestic abuse and has worked to bring together different organisations and leaders in the sector. 
But, without wanting to put words into her mouth, it is meeting survivors and hearing their experience that gives her the resolve to continue her focus. 
Yesterday, she met three very special and different women all of whom had been supported by the hospital Idvas. All spoke of the lifeline – literally – that this gave them. She heard about the advice, the support and the care that they had received – for them and for their children. 
She heard about the continuing support offered by Arch, the wonderful charity who manages the domestic abuse services locally, including crucially from their peers. And she heard about how each one of them wanted to give back, share their story and help others escape the suffering that they had experienced.
Only 1 in 5 survivors will tell the police about domestic abuse. For the 4 in 5, and their children, we need a qualified and confident domestic abuse team located where survivors seek help – and a hospital is a unique place to do this. 
Currently there are only a small percentage of hospitals providing this kind of help. We hope very much that the introduction of the new Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill, and the accompanying package of non-legislative measures will start to change this. Domestic abuse is a public health problem first and a criminal justice problem second. If you were living with domestic abuse today, who would you rather speak to?

Domestic abuse is a public health epidemic

A year ago SafeLives’ launched our report A Cry for Health which argued that every hospital in the UK should host an Idva service. The findings reflected four years of research into hospital-based Idvas in five English hospitals who had located specialist domestic abuse services in their A&E and Maternity units.

We know that only one in five victims of domestic abuse call the police which is why identifying them earlier in health settings is so important. Our research found that hospital Idvas were supporting victims on average six months earlier compared to Idvas in community settings, and in the year before the hospital Idva service started, 56% of hospital victims had accessed A&E because of the abuse, compared with only 16% of victims who accessed a community service. These represent missed opportunities to intervene, which is particularly important for victims who do not have any contact with other agencies.

Hospital-based Idvas are also very important for safeguarding children. We know that around 30% of domestic abuse begins during pregnancy, while 40–60% of women experiencing domestic abuse are abused during pregnancy. NHS staff are under a duty to safeguard children at risk of harm and a hospital Idva service is well placed to help with identification, referrals and support, to enable hospitals to fulfil their duties, not least by ensuring mothers at risk are identified early on.

Since the launch of the research last year, we have been pushing the Department of Health and other health agencies to support the roll-out of more hospital Idva services. Our latest findings from our Practitioner’s Survey suggest that around 40 hospitals host or have strong links to an Idva service. But given that there are around 160 registered acute NHS providers in England, that means 75% of providers are without a dedicated specialist domestic abuse resource.

As part of continuing to make the case for health-based links with domestic abuse specialists, SafeLives successfully bid for money from the Tampon Tax fund in consortium with Standing Together, IRISi, AVA, Imkaan and the University of Bristol to pilot a Pathfinder Project which brings together domestic abuse systems leaders to establish comprehensive health practice in relation to domestic abuse in acute hospital trusts, mental health trusts and community based IRIS programmes in GP practices. We’re looking forward to hearing about the successful Pathfinder areas in the next few weeks!

We are also excited to have recently provided training to King’s College medical undergraduates on domestic abuse, ensuring that the next generation of health staff have a grounded understanding of coercive and controlling behaviours and how to best support domestic abuse survivors and their children in a health-setting. We will be looking to work closely with other medical schools in 2018 so do get in touch if you have links with universities who might be interested!

Finally, we will be pushing hard for the crucial involvement of health in identifying and supporting victims of domestic abuse in the forthcoming Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill. Quite rightly, domestic abuse has been identified as a public health epidemic and the sooner we can see real commitment from all part of the health service, both NHS and private providers, the better we will be able to reach victims and signpost them to the specialist support they need to get safe.

We hope you enjoy our #16Days campaign to increase the focus of health on domestic abuse and do get in touch if you want to work with us further.

Jess Asato is Public Affairs Manager at SafeLives. She can be contacted at Jessica.asato@safelives.org.uk


Please would you consider making a regular gift of £10 a month, or whatever you can afford to help us call for specialist domestic abuse teams in every hospital in the country? You can donate online here or for a one-off £10 donation, text SAFELIVES to 70085. Thank you.

Why men and women must work together to end domestic abuse

In the wake of #MeToo, a powerful reminder of just how dangerous, threatening and downright exhausting the world can be for women, I didn’t think I’d find myself writing a blog post in defence of men – and yet here we are.

This week the conversation around men working in the domestic abuse sector has come to the surface once again. I want to explain why I think that men have to be part of the solution, and therefore must be part of the sector.

Firstly, we must not forget that domestic abuse can affect all of us in many different ways, and we cannot always know what personal experiences our colleagues bring with them when they choose to work in this sector. No one should feel the need to disclose those experiences as a way of justifying their presence here – whatever their gender.

Frontline domestic abuse support is one thing. If you run a service that supports women who have experienced abuse from male partners, there are very valid reasons not to have men working in a support role. But what about at a research, campaigning and policy level?

If we exclude men from working alongside us, what message are we sending? That violence against women is a ‘women’s issue’ that we are supposed to solve by ourselves – rather than something which society as a whole has a responsibility to tackle. In my view, recognising the gendered nature of domestic abuse means recognising that men have to be part of the solution; men who abuse women will not stop just because women ask them to. If we’re going to change the conversation and stop asking ‘why doesn’t she leave?’ and start asking ‘why doesn’t he stop?’ then we need campaigns and policy aimed at and co-created by men.

Then there is the fact that domestic abuse happens in every kind of relationship, and can happen to anyone. I’ve rolled my eyes countless times when a man asks ‘yes, but what about the men?’ when I’m discussing an issue affecting women. It is true that domestic abuse does disproportionately affect women, but it does also affect some men. Men in heterosexual relationships, men and women in LGBT relationships, in inter-family relationships, and as children growing up in homes where there is abuse. If we want to end it for one group, we have to want to end it for everyone. This isn’t to say that we should always give equal attention to men, or forget that the majority of perpetrators are men. But we do need to recognise that there is no ‘typical’ victim of domestic abuse.

In the last couple of weeks we’ve been reminded of the huge scale of the problem of male violence, on a spectrum that ranges from catcalling, to harassment at work, to groping, to abuse and murder. In the face of this, women are right to be angry. I am angry. But if that anger stops us from engaging with men, I believe we add years to the task of ending domestic abuse. And that’s years we simply can’t afford to lose. Women experiencing domestic abuse need us – all of us – to work together to make it stop.

I’ve been a feminist and around other feminists for long enough to know that the caricature of feminism as ‘man hating’ is inaccurate. It is misogynists who believe that men are inherently violent and dominant, that they ‘can’t help themselves’ and are incapable of taking on caring roles at home. Feminists know that men are capable of better; let’s give them a chance to be. 


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A Cup of tea with: Jo Morrish, Head of Learning and Accreditation

Ruth Davies is the Communications Officer at SafeLives. In this series she'll interview a different team member every month – over a nice cup of tea.

Jo Morrish is the Head of Learning and Accreditation at SafeLives

Ruth: Hi Jo, and congratulations on your ten year anniversary here at SafeLives! Could you start by telling me a bit about your background and how you came to SafeLives?

Jo: I was working at North Devon Women’s Aid many years ago, and I managed to get on the first Idva training course run by CRARG [the first incarnation of SafeLives] so that was how I met Diana Barran [SafeLives CEO]. I then did some freelance training work with what was then CAADA, and then started working here full time in 2007. Before working at Women’s Aid I’d been a youth worker too.

And now you’re Head of Learning and Accreditation at SafeLives – could you talk a bit about what your team has coming up in the next year?

Jo: So Learning and Accreditation really does two things. Firstly we deliver the training that SafeLives offers, which is obviously a huge part of what we do, and we’re also responsible for quality assessment of services – that’s the Leading Lights accreditation and the Service Managers course within that. So over the next year we’ll be running the Service Managers courses and working with those services to help them meet our standards for provision, and giving them Leading Lights status if they do.

In terms of training, we deliver over 400 days worth of training a year which is split between our accredited domestic abuse training, and training for other multi-agency professionals – so the police, Marac representatives for example. Over the next year we’re rolling out our new model which we developed last year, which is all about making the qualifications more flexible. We’ve developed training for professionals who are working with young people, and also training for Outreach workers.

Outreach has been really interesting; we’re just in the early days of running that course, and we’ve found Outreach workers saying that they really appreciate having a course that’s just for them. It’s been fascinating to see the really broad range of expertise that Outreach workers bring to the training. I remember when I finished my Idva training, feeling like I had a really special and important role and feeling valued. What I hope is that the Outreach workers who complete our training get that same feeling.

What’s your experience in terms of the impact that the training has?

Jo: People come to the training for all kinds of reasons. For some people having the qualification – the actual piece of paper – is really important and holds a real value for them. Others will have specific skills and areas of expertise they want to develop, and some want the chance to meet other professionals and share their practice. I think our learners get all of those things out of the training, and I think they also come away with a genuine sense of pride in their role, as well as what they’ve achieved in the training room.

In terms of our training for other professionals, we quite often get calls from the police or other agencies, saying that they’ve seen a difference within weeks in how they respond to victims of domestic abuse. Ultimately we see that our training helps to keep people safe and ensure a better chance of recovery.   

Something that I like to ask everyone is whether there are any moments from your time at SafeLives that really stand out for you. A time when you felt particularly inspired maybe?

Jo: On the Idva training we have quite a big celebration at the end, and it’s always incredibly emotional. As a trainer you’ve worked with people over four months and seen them really grow, so that’s always a highlight for me. Seeing people come away from the training with that sense of pride and renewed confidence in their role is a really special thing.

For more information about SafeLives courses, visit our Training pages