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16 Days of Activism – Rachel Williams’ story of activism against the odds

For our 16 Days of Activism campaign this year we wanted to champion the voices of the frontline and celebrate the work of people making a difference to those experiencing domestic abuse, in spite of the challenges brought on by the pandemic. As well as being a SafeLives Pioneer, Rachel Williams has done so much independently this year to help victims and survivors of domestic abuse. Rachel talks about her phenomenal achievements from this year in the below blog she has kindly written for us.

As we braced ourselves back in March for what was something all so new to us, Covid-19, we were also bracing ourselves for something that wasn’t so new and had been lurking around for years…domestic abuse and violence. Professionals, victims, and survivors knew only too well what this pandemic could do to those already living in an epidemic in the UK. I think I can speak for all those victims and survivors when I say we were entering into something where no one knew what the outcome would be.

I was now potentially leaving women to it!! Those ladies who had been coming to my Freedom Programme group each week were no longer able to do this, what could I do? I found zoom, zoom has certainly been a lifesaver to lots of women across the UK. I didn’t know how it was going to pan out, taking Freedom Programme to zoom each week but I was more than willing to give it a go. I shared a post on my social media platforms and had over 100 women sign up. So, I had gone from 8 in a group setting to over 100 women from across the UK wanting to attend my classes.

Fast forward, since March I have had the absolute pleasure of supporting over 200 women on Freedom Programme classes with one lovely lady attending from Russia!! Zoom really has been a life saver. I now find myself for the first time in 6 years being funded for something I love doing and that is supporting those who have been touched by domestic abuse and violence.

To date, over 118 women have successfully completed the 12-week programme. With 117 of those women saying that their knowledge had increased in relation to the personas of the perpetrator, and 117 saying they had a better understanding of domestic abuse and the effects on children within the household.

I received lots of wonderful feedback from the ladies, here are a couple of examples:

“Cannot recommend the presenter enough. She was extremely empathic, warm, compassionate, and engaging towards all people who took part in this training. I have come away with a wealth of knowledge that I did not know beforehand. The presenter ‘held’ us at all times, which was quite a feat as there was a lot of us”

“I do not feel anything needs improving. This programme is AMAZING ! Rachel is an inspiration, the knowledge, care, compassion, and passion that has been provided for all the women including myself was just breath-taking. It was like a little community and we all understood each other. Non-judgemental attitudes and support in every session made it a comfortable course to attend, and also some humour was added which is great ! Considering the covid circumstance and this course being delivered online I feel Rachel has absolutely smashed it.”

So, I think we can say that Freedom Programme on Zoom has been a success.

Not only did Zoom create the platform for Freedom Programme, but it gave me the opportunity to bring survivors and professionals together. For the first 15 weeks of lockdown I held weekly webinars with invited guest speakers, ranging from our very own Domestic Abuse Victims Commissioner Nicole Jacobs to Professor Jane Monkton Smith, Laura Richards, The Drive Project representatives, Professor Evan Stark and my latest two webinars to round off the year have been with Lundy Bancroft. He pulled in a good audience but the biggest I hosted was indeed for Professor Evan Stark who spoke for 4 hours and captivated 275 attendees. The zooms proved very popular and people said it made their week.

I also found myself doing some strange interviews. Not one to ever turn away an opportunity to raise awareness by sharing my story, I found myself being interviewed for Japan TV!! This interview was aired before they braced themselves for lockdown.

I also managed to end up on GMB, ITV live TV, along with lots of radio interviews too. I was surprised by the lack of knowledge around the “silent solution” calling when I mentioned it in my Jeremy Vines interview. I also released a video on social media around this which was seen thousands of times, I only hope that it helped saved a life.

I should have had my second annual Stand up to Domestic Abuse (SUTDA) event but thanks to Covid-19 this had to be postponed. This is now something a lot of people are much looking forward to in September 2021. As a taster and a little something for those who had paid deposits for the event, I decided to do a “SUTDA21 Zoom Taster”, yes, another zoom session!! I think I have now been called “Queen of Zoom” by a good friend of mine who is a police officer!

On this zoom taster, which I dialled in to from Spain, I had our after-dinner speakers join us; Terra Newell (Dirty John) who dialled in from LA, and Wales National Advisor “Nazir Afzal”. We had an amazing couple of hours of fun including a lovely poem from Michael Sheen, who is an amazing advocate, and a Q&A with Rachel Riley and Pasha, another pair of amazing advocates. All this was hosted by the amazing Chris Jones. To round off the event my friend and fellow Ambassador for Women’s Aid sang with her sister and I was presented with the most beautiful trophy which the ladies from the Freedom Programme had clubbed together for, with my lovely volunteer Natalie organising.

One of the many lovely things to happen to me this year was that I won Wales St David’s Award in the Humanitarian category, but what makes this so special is that I was nominated by all the lovely ladies who came to SUTDA19 and it was supported by Safelives too. The Award was such a lovely surprise and I do look forward to receiving the trophy as it’s currently in The Senedd!

To round off my awareness raising this year, after waiting almost a year for it to be aired, my story was re-enacted on Judge Rinder’s “Real Crime Stories” pulling in an audience of 1.2 million viewers without the downloads. This is incredible and the messages and emails I had through my website were amazing and I know some of those victims are now considering a new life, abuse free!

I will still continue using zoom and supporting the lovely ladies on my programme and also advocating for them. I will continue to answer questions on my Facebook page and signpost and help those who need it. This is now my life!

There have been many highs and lows this year and while a vaccine is looking certain for Covid-19, sadly the vaccine is still being sought for domestic abuse and violence. But I am sure that it is imminent and with all of us Standing up to Domestic Abuse we can make this happen.

It is all our problem, and we owe it to the next generation.

Whole Health London – the importance of survivor voice.

At SafeLives we combine data, research and frontline expertise to support services and to influence policy makers. More importantly, we place people with lived experience at the heart of all we do and amplify their voices.  

Over the course of our time as an organisation we have learned that the situation for survivors is ever evolving. With local and national lockdowns, this year alone has shown us how much work there still is to be done to achieve our goal of ending domestic abuse, for everyone and for good. We need to hear from survivors now more than ever. 

Domestic abuse has a profound impact on our physical and mental health. It is vital that health services are an active part of the solution to give victims the help they urgently need. 

We estimate that c77,500 Londoners received medical attention following domestic abuse in the last 12 months. In the year before getting effective help, nearly a quarter (23%) of victims at high risk of serious harm or murder, and one in ten victims at medium risk, went to accident and emergency departments because of their injuries. 

Whether a GP’s surgery, a maternity unit, or a mental health service, health providers are well placed to spot the signs of domestic abuse and provide immediate support and information. A whole health approach will help transform the health response to victims and perpetrators of domestic abuse across the capital. 

“It’s only because of referrals made by the hospital and Mind that I’m alive today.” - survivor 

The Whole Health London project has launched a new survey to explore the experiences of survivors over the age of 16 when accessing health services across London. To achieve a whole health approach to domestic abuse, we need to understand what support survivors are getting when they visit health services. For us to understand this we need to listen.  

Completing our survey will help make the case for ending the postcode lottery in health services by bringing survivor voices into the conversation with London’s politicians and policy makers. 

If you’ve experienced domestic abuse and have asked for help from health services in London in the last two years, we’d love to hear from you. Please click the link to complete our Whole Health London Survivor Survey.

A Coordinated Response to Risk: Scottish Marac Operation

Jenny Smith is SafeLives' Marac Development Officer for Scotland. In this blog, she looks at the development of Marac in Scotland. 

For the past 15 years Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conferences (Marac) have transformed the multi-agency response to domestic abuse across Scotland. At the heart of Marac is the working assumption that no single agency or individual can see the complete picture of the life of a victim, but all may have insights that are crucial to their safety. By sharing relevant, risk-focused information in a safe environment, a coordinated multi-agency safety plan can be developed, increasing victim safety.

SafeLives have been supporting Scottish Maracs through the Marac Development Programme (MDP) since 2015, working closely with Scottish Government to improve and develop a national framework for the multi-agency response to domestic abuse in Scotland. Any professional working with a victim of domestic abuse can refer into Marac - find the details of your local Marac here.

“Attending Marac allowed me to see how important the sharing of information can be to enable discussions on how to reduce harm and [address risk]”
Domestic Abuse Practitioner, 2019

These are uncertain and challenging times for all of us, but particularly so for those experiencing domestic abuse and the professionals supporting them. Covid-19 has presented new challenges and many of us have found ourselves isolated in our own homes, and for some, home is not a safe place. Now more than ever, we need a coordinated multi-agency response to domestic abuse, one that recognises domestic abuse as everybody’s business and sees the impact on the whole family

From our engagement with Scottish Maracs, before and during the Covid-19 crisis, it is clear there is a strong commitment to multi-agency working to support adult and child victims of domestic abuse across Scotland. Maracs have continued operating throughout lockdown, with examples of truly creative practice, reflecting the commitment of professionals and agencies to work together to improve the safety and outcomes for adult and child victims of domestic abuse. However, as we move out of lockdown and into the ‘new normal’, just as the responses to the Scottish Government consultation on multi-agency arrangements[1] highlighted, access to consistent, sustainable funding and training that recognises local diversity, are key to ensuring the sustainability of Scottish Maracs in the long term.

The impact of the Covid-19 crisis and lockdown have highlighted the need for multi-agency professionals to spot the signs of domestic abuse and refer to Marac and specialist support as appropriate. We know from our Marac data[2] that over three quarters of referrals to Scottish Maracs come from Police Scotland and local Idaa services[3]. Although this in part reflects reporting trends it highlights that unless a victim of domestic abuse in Scotland reports to police or seeks help from their local domestic abuse service, they are unlikely to access vital support from their local Marac.

As victims may be experiencing limitations on their ability to reach out for help, professionals must ‘reach in’ and offer support. Marac provides an opportunity for agencies to work together, pooling resources and using these in new and creative ways to address risk and support adult and child victims of domestic abuse.

“When everyone attends, Marac undoubtedly increases the safety of victims”
Scottish Marac Representative, 2018

Through these challenging times, Maracs have continued to operate, finding new and creative ways to ‘reach in’, as part of a coordinated community response to risk for adult and child victims of domestic abuse. Effective multi-agency working will improve the safety of Scotland's survivors, but organisations and structures need to be well supported with long-term, sustained resources. As we move out of lockdown and into a changed landscape, now more than ever we must work together to ensure anyone experiencing domestic abuse in Scotland can access the right response at the right time.

Marac in Scotland: National Update Report: read our 2020 national update report which provides an overview of the themes observed across Scottish Maracs between July 2019 and March 2020. 

Further reading: 

Resources for professionals in Scotland who are involved in the Marac process

Safe at home in Scotland: our response to Covid-19 in Scotland

 

[2] 26 Scottish Maracs currently submit quarterly data to SafeLives for analysis, this does not include all operational Maracs, however, including some large Scottish cities

[3] Based on data submitted between January and December 2019

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SafeLives staff celebrate the women who inspired them

At SafeLives we celebrate women every day, among our colleagues, in the public eye, and among the survivors we interact with. 

This International Women's Day, we asked SafeLives staff "Who is inspiring to you?"

 

"Monroe Bergdorf. Although she rose to prominence as a model she has consistently used her platform to challenge systematic oppression on racial grounds and fight for trans rights and an end to gender based violence. She has been the constant target of our right wing mainstream media in attempts to discredit her and remove her from influential positions and campaigns at a national and international level. Despite this she continues to raise awareness of these issues and champion the rights of all women to live free from violence and abuse."

- Sarah West, Research Analyst

 

"Gloria Steinem: an icon of the feminist movement in the USA. As well as founding Ms magazine in 1972, Steinem has spent decades doing the hard, grassroots activist work that is needed to drive change. She has been relentless in her work to protect and extend reproductive rights, and get more women elected to office. She was also a vocal ally of black and Native American women during the 60s and 70s, when many white feminists excluded women of colour or simply didn’t consider them part of the movement. She has led an inspiring life in many ways, but what personally inspires me about her is her willingness to listen, find common ground and build movements that speak to real people’s lives. At 85 she is still going strong, and her book My Life on the Road is a great reminder of the power of meaningful conversations and genuine community engagement in these frustrating political times. I’ve also seen her live sharing a stage with Beyoncé!"

- Ruth Davies, Senior Communications Officer

 

"My inspiration comes from Ali Littlewood who was an Idva at Changing Lives.  

Currently, Ali is battling terminal cancer, she is inspiring because of her positive attitude and selfless nature of continuing to do random acts kindness for others, she helped so many women as an Idva and deserves to be recognised for the difference she has made to so many lives."

- Viv Bickham, Drive Expert Advisor

 

"Rose McGowan is inspiring; not just for the bravery of speaking out about her experiences, which must have taken a huge personal effort, but for helping create a whole new social era thanks to #metoo; for continuing to challenge inherent sexism in the entertainment industry and beyond; and also for standing up (and being seemingly immune!) to trolling and huge negative backlash for many years."

- David Evans, Project Support Officer

 

"My inspirational woman is my Auntie Suzanne.  Auntie Suzanne inspires me by always being brave, resilient, hardworking and kind." 

- Nanya Coles, Research Manager

 

 

 

 

 

 

"I’ve followed Adwoa Aboah since hearing her speak about her journey and treatment for depression, addictions and bipolar disorder. She’s an activist and model who set up an organisation to celebrate women and diversity and break the taboo on topics including sexuality, disability, identity, mental health, education & relationships. It’s great to see a model who insists on having a voice and who uses her platform to elevate these issues."

- Louisa Comber, Communications Officer

 

"Tessa Jowell was a huge friend and mentor to so many women in her long political career. She was also instrumental in achieving change for women and girls. Tessa fought for the first gender equal Olympics and held countries to account when they tried to slip back from that commitment. She gave so many new mothers and fathers a place to go for help and friendship when she launched SureStart, and she wasn’t afraid to call out sexist advertising on the tube when she targeted the Beach Body Ready ads, and prior to that size zero models in London Fashion week. She used to say “It’s amazing what you can achieve when you don’t care about who takes the credit” and built cohesive coalitions of people, often cross-party and of no party, to achieve real, practical change. I miss her every day but she will inspire me for the rest of my life."

- Jess Asato, Head of Public Affairs and Policy

 

"Janet Mantle, Granny Nita, is the most positive, inspirational woman I know, whose stories never fail to leave me in awe. In 1938, aged just 17 she left Glasgow to train as a nurse in London. Aged 22, she moved to India to work as a nurse during WW2. She returned to Birmingham, before moving back to Glasgow to bring up her two amazing sons herself. Aged 40 she started midwifery training and went on to gain her diploma as a Midwifery Teacher aged 47. Aged 56, while still working, she achieved a certificate in Field Archaeology. This led her to work (after retirement!) in the Conservation Department at Glasgow’s Hunterian Museum; as a researcher for the Family History Association; and as a transcriber for the Census Roll – work she done until her second retirement, aged 78. To this day, she has better knowledge of Mail Merge than anyone I know and is a tech whiz – using her Alexa every day and getting an Amazon voucher most Christmas’s. Next month she’ll be 99. A true hero!"

- Natalie Mantle, Head of Communications and Marketing

 

"The woman who inspired me was called Eglantyne Jebb.  I’ve got a print of this photograph above my desk at home.  She looks terribly genteel, fountain pen in hand, as if she’s writing a thank you note for a gift of hyacinth bulbs or something.  But actually, she’ll have been writing to the Prime Minister or the Minister for War or something. 

When the First World War was ending, Eglantyne became aware of all the hundreds of thousands of children in Germany and Eastern Europe who no one was looking after. Orphaned, injured, homeless, malnourished, traumatised as war swept backwards and forwards across their homelands for four years.  The public and media considered them ‘enemy children’ and not worth bothering about.  Eglantyne said no war should be a war against a child and set up Save the Children to start an international effort to protect them.  She did all sorts of modern charity things for the first time – the first media appeal, filling the Royal Albert Hall for a fundraising event.  I worked for Save the Children for six years and thought them an amazing charity.  HRH The Princess Royal, Save the Children’s President, called her dog Eglantyne. 

This is my favourite quote of hers: “Save the Children is often told that its aims are impossible - that there has always been child suffering and there always will be. We know. It's impossible only if we make it so. It's impossible only if we refuse to attempt it.” 

- Alison Pavier, Head of Fundraising

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5 reasons why 2020 should be the year you sign up to do a 10k for SafeLives

If you’re someone who has always wanted to try running but has never had a reason to do so, this is the blog post for you. As someone who still breaks out in a cold sweat if I think about P.E bleep tests, I really understand if you couldn’t imagine anything worse.

To try and convince you, here are 5 reasons why 2020 should be the year you sign up to do a 10k for SafeLives. Let’s go through these together:

 

1. Every penny raised takes us a step closer to ending domestic abuse for everyone and for good

We know that the domestic abuse sector is woefully underfunded. We do life saving work at SafeLives, but we need funding to do it. Last year, we trained 7,000 officers in our award-winning DA Matters training and supported more than 65,000 adults who between them were the parents or carers for 85,000 children through interventions. We are so proud of this. But, with millions of people in the UK being victims of domestic abuse every year – we need your help to make ending domestic abuse for everyone and for good a reality.

 

2. Once you’ve signed up, there is no going back.

As ominous as this sounds – I think in a way it’s quite motivating! If you’re working towards a goal and shout about it by posting it on social media, you’re much more likely to work towards achieving it. Plus – if you sign up for one of our places, it’s free!

 

3. You can be part of a SafeLives community

Training for a 10k can sometimes feel a bit lonely, so we’ve set up a platform where you can see what your fellow SafeLives supporters are raising through JustGiving. There’s even a list of our top fundraisers for our challenge events. Who knows, that could be you!

 

4. It’s the perfect way to schedule you-time into your day

Everyone needs some time to be in their own headspace and often it’s really hard to justify that time to ourselves when we have other things going on. Running is the perfect way to re-centre your mind on yourself, your needs, and gives you the headspace to reflect on anything that’s bothering you that day. Signing up to a 10k is just a way to justify that much needed you time!

 

5. Why not?!

If you’re one of those people who has always thought about doing a 10k but has put it off, why not just sign up?! What do you have to lose?

 

If you’re feeling inspired, why not have a look at how to sign up for the Bristol 10k or Vitality London now?

As always, if you have any questions, feel free to email me at fundraising@safelives.org.uk.

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