25th November 2015
Ceri, an Independent Domestic Violence Advisor, shares her story.
Today, we mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. I commend any campaign to raise awareness of domestic violence, but for me - this is my every day.
I work as an 'Idva'. I expect you haven't come across this term before (you pronounce it like it's spelt). It means Independent domestic violence advisor - which is a fancy way of saying I help victims of domestic abuse.
When someone seeks help, there are a huge number of services they might need. Housing, civil and criminal courts, the police, benefits advice, probation services, parenting programmes, mental health support workers, substance misuse workers, refuges, children and young people's services, their GP - I could go on. Imagine, finding the courage to finally leave, feeling vulnerable and afraid, nervous about what the future might hold - and you have to try and navigate that lot.
So that's where we Idvas come in. I was trained by the national charity SafeLives to navigate all these different services for my clients, to understand domestic abuse and how it might influence emotions and decisions.
I'll quickly run you through a normal day 'at the office'. I start work at about 8am: reading about new referrals (from the police, social services, and charities), liaising with other professionals and checking on the events of my current clients. At the moment, I have about 45 cases (twice as many as recommended) so there is a lot to get through.
I might get to my first client by 9.30am or so, if they're a new referral I will be with them for about two hours. I carry out a risk-assessment, and from there establish their needs. We create a tailored safety and support plan. Every plan is unique - they might need the security of their home addressed, they may need to leave or move home, they may need to talk to their GP, they may have to go to court.
Whatever is needed we work it out together, carefully planning small steps to freedom.
I could then see up to another three cases that day. I work in a rural area so cover about 400 miles a week. Finding time for paperwork and training can be tough, but it's essential I stay up to date with the latest procedure or piece of legislation.
With many of my cases now being ineligible for legal aid, we've been given guidance in 'DIY injunctions' for family courts. The thing about lack of legal aid is that the perpetrator can also self-represent - meaning the shocking situation of a victim being cross-examined by the perpetrator can occur. I can leave you to your own conclusions about what that might mean for a victim's safety or well-being.
I would love more time with my clients. I would love more training in how to meet their needs and therefore reduce the risk to them. Victims of domestic abuse are as complex and diverse as the rest of us - and the more I can understand individual needs, the more I can tailor their support and increase our chances of getting them safe.
We all know a victim of domestic abuse, because it doesn't just happen to one sort of person. And the more we allow that misconception to stick, the more people will remain hidden from view. People don't realise they're living with domestic abuse because they might not have a black eye - but they are being emotionally abused, financially controlled, bullied and coerced. They live in fear of their partner's reaction - and yet they are also fearful of the consequences of telling someone. Will he/she be arrested? Will their child be taken away? Will they bring shame on the family? Nothing is simple.
And of course many victims do have the physical scars to show for it. Each year there are 100,000 victims at high-risk of being seriously injured or killed in the UK. And those are the ones we know about. And that is why I do the job - women and children are still dying. And I can't walk away from that.
I have worked in many roles supporting families, and the one thing that came up time and time again was violence and abuse in intimate relationships. It has such impact on the entire family. I used to think the only way to make children safe was to work with the parents - now I know the only way is to work with the whole household; that might also meaning advising the perpetrator to get help from specialist groups to address their behaviour.
It is about challenging what is unacceptable behaviour and informing, teaching and supporting positive ways forward. If I was PM, I'd have healthy relationships in the curriculum, because we have to help children understand how to treat one another. Children grow into adults, and continue to live with the cycle of abuse.
Some days - I think I could just go and have a 'normal' job. They say you can't be an Idva forever, you'll burn out, it's just too emotionally and physically exhausting. I'm still going strong after six years. I stay because of the clients: they've lived without choices or freedom for months, years, sometimes decades. Our training means we can start to give our clients options.
My job is to show our clients we're working for them, not against them. For many, it's hard for them to get their head around that - they've haven't had anyone on their side for so long.