LEAVE THIS SITE

Practice blog

Pages

One Year On

 

A lot can happen in a year, or so the saying goes.

When COVID-19 arrived in the UK in early 2020, domestic abuse services were well aware of the impact a government-sanctioned lockdown would have on victims. Our worst fears were quickly realised.

The frightening acceleration of domestic abuse spread as fast as the virus. Reports to charities and police forces rocketed from Birmingham to Buenos Aires. Between April and June 2020, calls to the National Domestic Abuse Helpline in the UK saw a 65% increase. SafeLives’ own research showed a 90% increase in demand for specialist services. It is never an easy time to be living with someone who controls or frightens you, but national lockdowns, social distancing measures and increased financial insecurity have made an extremely difficult situation even harder. And more dangerous.

Yet in this midst of these trying times, one good thing has surfaced. The world has woken up to domestic abuse.

Since March 2020, the government has offered extra funding, the media has repeatedly engaged with the topic, employers started to consider their duty of care to staff working from home, and in January this year, the Prime Minister directly referenced the needs of victims in a televised press conference. Our collective awareness of domestic abuse has never been greater. 

Yet we cannot take our foot off the gas; we cannot go back to sleep. Over the last few weeks girls and women of all ages, identities and backgrounds have poured out their experiences of abusive and violent experiences in a way they haven’t in many years. We must ensure that this new level of engagement grows. We must make the most of this moment.

Our first priority has to be the essential shift of focus onto the people causing the harm. Instead of asking, “Why didn’t she just leave?”, we have to start asking “Why doesn’t he stop?”- applying the same principle to harm outside the home, too. This shift in approach is long overdue and will completely change the response to domestic abuse and other forms of inter-personal violence for the future. We must increase understanding of effective prevention and continue to improve our responses to individuals’ harmful behaviour. 

Investment is also key. The government has offered short term relief but we need long term investment to ensure sustainable support for all victims, including victims who want to stay safely in their own homes, and those who don’t have settled immigration status.

Many children have ‘disappeared’ behind closed doors for the last 12 months, unable to access the safety and respite of school. The NSPCC has reported calls from concerned neighbors have increased by 50% since the pandemic began. When the Domestic Abuse Bill becomes law in the spring, children will be recognised as victims for the first time, not just witnesses. This is progress but like all victims, we must ensure they receive all the support they need. 

The mental health toll of experiencing abuse and violence cannot be understated. New investment in mental health must recognise the prevalence of abusive experiences amongst those who have a need.

We will all know someone for whom domestic abuse is a reality – either now or in their past. We can all find ways to reach in; ask a friend how they are, offer to do a shop, or simply be there to listen. We are pleased to see schemes such as the Government’s Ask for ANI. The idea was conceived by survivors - a code word that can be used in pharmacies to ask for emergency help. Ask for ANI underscores how all of us can play a role in supporting victims. 

We also need to ensure that all police forces, not just over half as it currently stands, are fully trained to understand and respond to coercive and controlling behaviour. Five years on since coercive control became a criminal offence, we need all police officers to enforce the law. And we need to see the courts responding quickly, taking criminal cases forward to prosecution in a timely way and making sure the family courts are a safe place for those experiencing abuse. Training is key too for prosecutors, court officials and judges. 

During the pandemic, the boundary between home and work has blurred immeasurably and more than ever, employers have a responsibility for staff wellbeing. We’re glad many employers have joined this conversation and this should be just the beginning. We will continue to call for the government to provide statutory paid leave for domestic abuse victims.

While all of this work is underway, restrictions have begun to ease and vaccines promise an end in sight, victims of domestic abuse are a long way from being out of this storm. In fact, we have little doubt that things will get worse before they get better. Those who make calls for help are a tiny fraction of this picture. We also know that separation is an incredibly dangerous time for victims. If victims decide to make a change now lockdown has lifted and measures start to ease, the stakes are terrifyingly high, as abusers will fight to retain the additional control they’ve enjoyed now for a year.

The world has changed over the last 12 months, and there’s been a particular frenzy in the last few weeks. Many things will not return to how they were. Let’s make sure the raised public awareness of domestic abuse is one of them, not letting victims and survivors be collateral damage around Coronavirus.

We can take advantage of this extraordinary and difficult moment and move forward with the same level of vigour and determination that the pandemic awoke in us a year ago. Our country isn't safe and healthy until we do.

 

  • Suzanne Jacob, Chief Executive, SafeLives, April 2021      

Now is the time to reach in

It’s been a year since the world changed in a way most of us couldn’t imagine. In that time, we’ve all been on a journey. At first there was surprise, shock, novelty, fear. Some of us may have experienced heartbreaking grief or been separated from family. Now, 12 months on, we've settled into some sort of routine - however unwelcome. Lockdowns and face masks are not always pleasant but they are no longer new.

As we have adapted to life with Coronavirus and find hope in the promise of a vaccinated future, perhaps many of us now have the capacity to look beyond what’s happening in our own lives to what might be happening in the lives of others.

For victims of domestic abuse living with perpetrators, despite the Prime Minister's roadmap, their ordeal is far from over. In fact, things are likely to become even harder if they are thinking of making a change when restrictions are lifted. Leaving a perpetrator is often the most dangerous time for a victim. While much has been reported on the acceleration of abuse during this period, we know we’re only seeing a tiny fraction of the true picture.

So now that some of us may feel we have a bit more breathing space, as restrictions ease and evenings get lighter, this is the moment to take a closer look at those around us.

Perhaps you’d had concerns about a friend when lockdown began last year and noticed you haven't heard from her, that she wasn’t able to talk on the phone or join a zoom call? Perhaps you have long worried about a relative but have been too preoccupied with homeschooling to reach in and ask her how she is? Maybe a colleague asked to borrow money but at the time you thought it was just because of COVID-19. Now, looking back, does their behaviour seem worrying to you?

If you have a gut feeling, now is the time to act. It is easy to think this crisis is coming to an end, and maybe it’s not so urgent anymore, but it is essential we remember that is only true for some of us but by no means all of us. We have to keep reaching in and doing our part. Domestic abuse is everyone’s business. This is true now and will continue to be true long after lockdown.

It can feel like a daunting task but there are ways of reaching in that can open a line of communication. Simply keeping in touch, survivors have told us, can go a long way - just be mindful that texts and phone calls might be monitored.  If you can find a safe way to catch up, let them know you’re happy to listen. Mention they’ve seemed down lately and ask if anything is wrong. If your friend does disclose abuse, there are things you can help with. Offer to do a shop or to keep a packed bag. Remind your friend they are not alone and help is available.

It is easy to feel helpless, but we know that these small moments can make a big difference in the lives of a survivor of domestic abuse. Research tells us that victims are more likely to disclose abuse to people they know and trust. Reaching in could save a life.

In the next few months, life will start to look more normal - for some of us.  Pub gardens will open their doors, hairdressers will have long queues, and, gradually, we’ll be able to reunite with friends and family. But we’re the lucky ones. This is our time to help those who are still trapped with perpetrators. This is our time to reach in.

 

- Michelle Phillips, Head of Innovation at SafeLives

 

Find out more about how to reach in here.

 

Survivors Supporting Survivors - International Women’s Day 2021

International Women’s Day is a day to celebrate the achievements of women. This year we are celebrating the inspiring survivors of domestic abuse who use their experiences to enact change, campaign fearlessly and support other survivors.  

Everyday thousands of women use their experiences and passion to transform the response to domestic abuse. This International Women’s Day we want to recognise and celebrate the incredible work they do. When survivors support survivors we can change the world.   

Your voices are at the heart of everything we do.   

Together we will end domestic abuse, for everyone and for good. 

 

We have been collecting stories about what it means to survivors to be working to end domestic abuse. They have boldly shared their experiences, how they have used it to push for change, and what Survivors Supporting Survivors means to them.  

Jump to a story… 

 

Tina’s story… 

“My journey with Fylde Coast Women’s Aid started as a service user, I came to the Fylde Coast seeking refuge with my three children 22 years ago.   

During my time as Service Manager, I steered the organisation through some difficult and challenging times. At times, the only thing that kept me focused and driven was knowing how very important quality specialist services are to adult and child victims of domestic abuse.   

My experience of living with and ultimately escaping a violent perpetrator of abuse made me want to ensure other victims received quality help and support.”  

Tina was our Star of the Month for September 2020 – you can read more about Tina’s work here

 

Rachel’s story… 

“As a Pioneer for SafeLives and being surrounded with fellow Pioneers, this adds coal to that roaring fire in my belly.  

When I found myself in a club that I didn’t ask to be in, I was, and I still am committed and determined to end domestic abuse and violence. I have certainly seen changes and there is so much more to come.   

The army is rising and getting bigger, and we won't stay silent to keep those perpetrators invisible.”  

You can read all about Rachel’s amazing achievements in 2020 here in the blog she wrote for our 16 Days of Activism campaign.

 

Shana’s story… 

“As someone who was born into domestic abuse, and with a lack of awareness which resulted in me putting myself and my children in danger, I know first-hand how dangerous and toxic domestic abuse is.  

Due to my lived experience, I have the knowledge, credibility and empathy to help others. In order to eliminate domestic abuse, we need to talk about it.   

Educate bystanders. Provide personalised and quality help for those who experience domestic abuse, make sure there are good services available at the point of need, but also an early intervention where possible.” 

Shana was our Star of the Month for February 2020 – you can read more about Shana’s work here

 

Celia’s story… 

“My Mum’s murder was so brutal and out of the blue that I didn’t consider it domestic abuse initially.  

Mum’s death was the catalyst for my family to wake up to the normalisation of abuse and violence and do whatever it takes to re-learn our ways of relating to one another.   

I was the first pioneer in the family, I had to change my outlook and attitude.   

Through my work with SafeLives have I gained a greater awareness of the extent of what I’ve been through and how to move beyond it, our work has helped me stay strong and hold true to my values in face of adversity when patterns arise be to overcome.    

Today I am a coach and practitioner of Non-violent communication, I am aware of power imbalances and how to deal with them appropriately.   

Individually and collectively we are using our experiences to transform our and others lives.   

We are a team of devoted, compassionate and powerful humans that support each others growth and transformation, to be the pioneers of our own lives, for me this has been life changing.   

I sincerely hope others join us on this profound mission to recognise and end domestic abuse for everyone, once and for all.” 

When we launched our #ReachIn campaign last year, Celia talked about her experience, and the powerful effect reaching in can have. Watch the video here

 

Kendra’s story… 

“8 years ago, I became a service user at Foundation as I fled from my partner after 12 years of domestic abuse. During my time at Foundation the support workers helped me build my confidence back up.   

This is where my journey began - just over 2 years ago I asked if I could volunteer, and Foundation welcomed me with open arms. The feedback I receive from clients who access the Freedom Program and the clients I help to support in refuge and IDVA is truly amazing.   

It is the best part of the job, knowing you have helped someone to safety or are helping them rebuild their life.” 

Kendra was our Star of the Month for December 2020 – you can read more about Kendra’s work here

 

Natasha’s story… 

“SafeLives is an organisation which champions the voice of victims and survivors of domestic abuse and believes that ‘experts by experience’ should be a valid and equal part of the solution in aiming to put an end to domestic abuse.   

SafeLives offered me the opportunity to join their wonderful family and become a Pioneer, an opportunity I gratefully accepted.  

I now speak to professionals across all statutory and third sector agencies to discuss what it is like, from a victim’s perspective, when inter-agency partnership doesn’t always work as it should, and the impact and consequences these failures have on the lives of those victims during their most vulnerable time.    

As such, I hope to improve services response to victims of domestic abuse and help them understand the vital importance of providing the right response when called upon.”  

 

Anonymous’ story… 

“Working at SafeLives has helped me better understand and process what happened to me. I was so young when I was in an abusive relationship that I didn’t realise it was more than just ‘toxic behaviour’.   

Working for SafeLives and helping to raise awareness about the many forms that domestic abuse can take is a privilege.   

I hope that someone in a similar situation to the one I was in learns about what constitutes as domestic abuse and is able to become safer, sooner.” 

 

Stories from members of our Scottish Authentic Voice Panel 

“Being part of something where I, as a survivor, can help a fellow survivor seems like a no brainer to me.    

I feel I have grown in confidence.  Being valued and my opinions listened to is absolutely amazing, as is having the ability to give back in some way.    

Giving me a voice along with my fellow survivors on the AV panel in the hope that we can help fellow survivors is truly positive.  I used to say, "this is my life" I can now say "that was my life".  

- Scottish Authentic Voice Panel Member  

 

“It feels so good knowing that my little input is helping build a better way of helping survivors. I struggled for years to get any help whatsoever. There was no clear way of contacting anyone and no clear explanation of what types of abuse there was.   

Cedar helped me in realising that it wasn’t just physical abuse but emotional, psychological, and many more, and that I hadn’t done anything wrong, and the blame and guilt belonged with him and not me.   

Finally, on seeing that I could stop carrying it around and finally admit I was a victim.  I want to help survivors find this special place so much earlier than I did. This group is the key to not just surviving but for healing.”  

- Scottish Authentic Voice Panel Member  

 

“Survivors supporting survivors is definitely the best way forward. It’s hard to walk in someone’s shoes when you have no idea of the worry and walking on eggshells and the fear of what will happen if I say the wrong thing.   

This is something that’s very hard to feel unless you have been there. Once you denied these things to your best friend and closest family, but in a room with total strangers you’ve never met, just knowing they have been there, and they won’t judge you, and most of all you understand. It makes it so easy to open up and get out the hurt.   

It’s an incredible emotional journey, but it needs to be with people who genuinely get it as they say. No matter how much support you have it’s always better to know that they truly understand.   

It makes you feel strong and ready to put a stop to this being a taboo subject that’s never discussed due to the shame. Because we weren’t wrong, we just fell in love. We didn’t want to be controlled or manipulated just to be loved back.”  

- Scottish Authentic Voice Panel Member  

 

Early in the pandemic our incredible group of Pioneer survivors proposed a codeword to be used in pharmacies.   

The ‘Ask for ANI’ scheme has now been used over 45 times since its launch by the Home Office 7 weeks ago. 

That is the power of Survivors Supporting Survivors.

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.

Pages