How Can You Help Someone Living With Domestic Violence And Abuse?
In 2019 an estimated 2.4 million adults experienced domestic abuse in the UK so, chances are, someone in your community is living with domestic abuse.
The recent Coronavirus crisis has caused countries across the world to restrict the movements of people in order to save lives. This has understandably caused hardship for many, facing the loss of their livelihoods, loss of contact with family members and trying to juggle childcare. However, there are also those who are now faced with the nightmare of being shut in with their abuser. There is also a risk to many children, with an estimated 130,000 children in the UK living in households with high risk domestic abuse.
Self-isolation offers a new method of control over victims increasing the risks and making it very difficult for them to seek support. Statistics across the UK and from other countries have shown a rise in violence once restrictions have been put in place. In the UK calls to the National Domestic Abuse helpline rose by 49% and killings doubled since restrictions on public life were introduced.
At a time when we are increasingly looking to support others in our community, how can we help victims and children who are living with domestic abuse? DV-ACT experts have worked with domestic abuse perpetrators and victims for many years and have produced some basic guidelines for people to help their neighbours, or others in their community, that they may be worried about, while people are isolated in their homes.
What is domestic abuse?
Domestic abuse is not always physical it can also include, emotional, financial and sexual abuse.
"Domestic abuse is defined across government as any incident of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse, between those aged 16 or over who are, or have been, intimate partners or family members, regardless of their gender and sexuality" (cps.gov.uk)
There are many forms of domestic violence, including some situations that are rarely talked about, and the Coronavirus crisis is bringing them to light. Hopefully, the majority of the general public will have some information regarding child abuse and intimate partner violence and this is the focus of the major domestic abuse charities, however, there are other forms of abuse that we need to be aware of. Elder abuse (abuse of an elderly person either by a partner, family member or carer), child or adolescent to parent violence (APV), sibling abuse and sexual abuse are all examples of abuse that happens behind closed doors across the UK. To find out more about these forms of domestic abuse visit our post What's going on behind closed doors?
How will i know if domestic abuse is going on?
More obvious signs of physical violence and abuse are:
sounds of distress
someone being ejected from their house
Other visible signs of violence could be:
visible cuts or bruises
suddenly using much more make up than before
a change in the type of clothes they are wearing, or clothes that do not suit the weather (i.e its hot but they are wearing high necked or long sleeved clothes)
Signs that coercive controlling behaviour may be present could include:
an 'unnatural silence' when the perpetrator is in the house (this is most clear when children are living in the house)
household members are nervous of talking when the perpetrator is home
there are signs that occupants are being punished (this could be standing in a corner, sent outside or completing harsh tasks)
For friends and family members
For those that you speak to via phone or message, signs could be that they:
seem overly anxious to please their partner
are being discouraged by their partner to speak to you
show personality changes - they may appear much quieter, anxious, tearful, distracted or more aggressive
talk about their partners jealousy or possessiveness
go along with everything their partner says or does
have limited access to money
using drugs or alcohol to cope
Should I really intervene?
Research shows that if someone is experiencing abuse, they are most likely to turn to someone they know. Remember that now many of the services that previously played a big role in spotting violence and abuse such as GP surgeries, schools are support groups are now closed so it is now important that neighbours, friends, colleagues and family members do all they can to support the vulnerable in their community.
If you already know that there have been incidents of violence and abuse it is vital that you offer as much support as possible at this time. The Coronavirus crisis lockdown poses a myriad of problems for victims and there is now a much higher risk of fatal violence. Forensic criminologist Jane Monckton-Smith has spent years studying hundreds of fatal domestic abuses cases, and she explains the spike in fatalities:
“Lockdown means that people who were already controlling and abusing their partners are now even more controlling and volatile. The lockdown has not created abuse, it has just made it more visible and dangerous”.
What can I do if I think a friend or relative is suffering during isolation?
Evidence shows that rather than waiting for them to bring it up, if you directly ask someone if they are suffering from abuse they are more likely to talk about it. Keep the following in mind:
try to talk to them in a safe way, preferably when the abuser is not nearby, bear in mind that abusive partners often monitor the victims phone and email
begin by expressing your concerns and then listen without judgement
reach out to professionals and provide practical information
leaving, if they want to, should only take place in a safe way and planned in advance, remember, leaving can actually increase the risk so we would always recommend that you reach out for professional help before planning this (helplines at the end), in the mean time agree on a code word so they can signal to you if they are in danger and need urgent help. Remember that families fleeing violence or abuse are exempt from lockdown rules and regulations andrefuges are accepting clients at this time, even if the family is in isolation
Equation have released helpful guidance on what to say if you think a friend is experiencing domestic abuse. If you're worried about a child, you can call the NSPCC helpline on 0808 800 5000. Galop have developed guides for friends and family who are worried that the LGBT+ person they know is being victimised by their partner.
What should I do if I hear or see a violent incident?
If you believe someone is in immediate danger call the police on 999. Please bear in mind that two women a week are killed by a current or former partner in England or Wales alone and 62% of children living with domestic abuse are also directly harmed. If you are unable to speak use the silent solution which is to dial 55 when prompted.
What if I don't want the neighbour to know I called?
If you are worried about what may happen and don't want the neighbour to know you called the police you must say this to the call handler. The police may call you before, or on the way to, the incident to ask further questions or they may go straight to your neighbours if they don't have time. If they need to speak to you further they should call you when appropriate and arrange a time or place to talk.
Police should always investigate when they become involved and may arrest the abuser. Even if charges are not bought there are a range of options open to the victim to help protect them.
Basic do's and dont's
Accept and believe what they say
Seek help from helplines by phone or via online chats
Find information for them - this could be helplines, online communities or local services that could help
Offer what support you can
Reassure them that they can get help
Listen in a non-judgemental way
Confront the abuser
Tell the victim what to do
Insist that they leave
Talk at them without listening
Assume the violence is not serious
Offer more than you actually can do
If you have questions about why someone doesn't leave an abusive relationship visit our post Why doesn't she leave?
Please share this post so that others in the community know what to do to help those suffering from domestic abuse. Use the social media icons at the bottom of this post.
If you think it would be helpful to know more about helping someone who is living with domestic abuse please contact us with suggestions for further blog posts, or for more information you can visit the following sites:
Refuge Covid 19 Response - https://www.refuge.org.uk/refuge-responds-to-covid-19/
UK government - https://www.gov.uk/guidance/domestic-abuse-how-to-get-help
Womens Aid Coronavirus safety advice for survivors - https://www.womensaid.org.uk/covid-19-coronavirus-safety-advice-for-survivors/
Bystander awareness - http://communitiesinc.org.uk/ourwork/nbad/
Make it our business - http://makeitourbusiness.ca/warning-signs/warning-signs-for-neighbours-friends-and-families
Online community support - With Abuse Talk you can join the discussion on domestic abuse through a weekly Twitter Chat every Wednesday 8-9pm GMT www.twitter.com/abusetalkonline there is also a forum https://jennifergilmour.com/community/ which is available 24/7 and even houses a solicitor who will answer questions and queries for no charge, and a podcast which delivers a series of interviews with those that work in the domestic abuse sector. Available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and more.
Helplines are available for both perpetrators and victims of domestic abuse as well as for children, parents struggling with abuse from children and elder abuse:
National Domestic Violence Helpline 24/7 – 0808 2000 247
Womens Aid online help for female victims (Monday to Friday 10:00am - 4:00pm, Saturday and Sunday 10:00am-12:00pm) - https://chat.womensaid.org.uk
The Men’s Advice Line, for male domestic abuse survivors – 0808 801 0327
Mens advice online chat for male victims (Wednesday, Thursday and Friday – 10 – 11am and 3 – 4pm) - https://mensadviceline.org.uk/contact-us/
Childline - 0800 1111
Childline online service for children or young people experiencing domestic abuse (9am-midnight) - www.childline.org.uk/get-support/1-2-1-counsellor-chat/
NSPCC helpline (Monday to Friday 8am – 10pm or 9am – 6pm at the weekends) - 0808 800 5000 Contact counsellors 24 hours a day by email or online reporting form email@example.com
Family Lives, a confidential helpline service for families in England and Wales (9am – 9pm, Monday to Friday and 10am – 3pm Saturday and Sunday) for emotional support, information, advice and guidance on any aspect of parenting and family life - 0808 800 2222
You can also email for support, advice and information at firstname.lastname@example.org
Young Minds Parents helpline (Monday to Friday 9.30am – 4pm) - 0808 802 5544
Action on Elder Abuse helpline: 0808 808 8141
Respect helpline for perpetrators of domestic abuse - 0808 8024040
The Mix, free information and support for under 25s in the UK – 0808 808 4994
National LGBT+ Domestic Abuse Helpline – 0800 999 5428
Call the UK police non-emergency number, 101, if you need support or advice from the police and it's not an emergency
999 silent solution - In an emergency 999 should always be called, if the caller is unable to speak they need to press 55, but there is a procedure that needs to be followed and the limitations of this (ie that the police cannot track the caller when a mobile is used) need to be made clear - https://www.policeconduct.gov.uk/sites/default/files/Documents/research-learning/Silent_solution_guide.pdf
DV-ACT are a team of domestic abuse experts, available throughout the UK, who provide assessments, consultancy and training to local authorities and the family courts. Our experts have decades of experience working directly with domestic abuse perpetrators and victims, as specialist assessors and as expert witnesses in the family courts.
DV-ACT was formed with the aim of using our expertise to help safeguard children from abuse, this is at the heart of everything that we do.