Could you tell if a friend or a colleague was experiencing domestic abuse?
Briony Williamson, Head of Training at our partner charity SafeLives, explains why it's important for businesses to recognise the signs. By looking out for their people and customers, businesses can help to build safer homes and better tomorrows for the millions currently at risk across the UK.
Two million at risk
Domestic abuse affects almost two million adults in the UK each year, with over 100,000 currently at high risk of murder or serious harm. We estimate that by the time they start school, at least one child in each classroom has been living with domestic abuse since they were born.
SafeLives is a UK-wide charity working to end domestic abuse for everyone and for good. We work with organisations across the UK to transform the response to domestic abuse.
We want what you would want for your best friend. We listen to survivors, putting their voices at the heart of our thinking. We look at the whole picture for each individual and family to get the right help at the right time to make families everywhere safe and well.
"Despite the fact that, statistically speaking, most people will know someone who has experienced or been affected by domestic abuse, as a society we still haven’t got to grips with talking about it."
And we challenge perpetrators to change, asking ‘why doesn’t he stop?’ rather than ‘why doesn’t she leave?’ This applies whatever the gender of the victim or perpetrator and whatever the nature of their relationship. Last year alone, nearly 11,000 professionals working on the frontline received our training.
Despite the fact that, statistically speaking, most people will know someone who has experienced or been affected by domestic abuse, as a society we still haven’t got to grips with talking about it. Too often domestic abuse is still seen as a ‘private matter’ – because it happens behind closed doors.
Domestic abuse thrives in darkness, but when we talk about it we shine a light that makes it harder for it to hide.
COVID-19 and lockdown
This has never been more true than during COVID-19 and lockdown. As my colleagues and I watched the Prime Minister issue his instruction to the nation to ‘stay at home’, our hearts sank. All of us working in the domestic abuse sector knew what lockdown was likely to mean for the adults and children all across the country for whom home is not a safe place.
As the weeks went by, our instincts were proved right. Calls to the National Domestic Abuse Helpline skyrocketed, and the frontline services we work with told us they were struggling to cope with demand and worried about how their already stretched staff could continue to support clients safely.
Frontline domestic abuse services have moved heaven and earth to continue providing life saving support to people living with abuse during this time, but many victims have been unable to access them.
At SafeLives we’ve been running regular surveys of people living with abuse during lockdown, and 61% of those who responded said they haven’t been able to reach out to anyone for help. That’s why we’ve been urging friends, neighbours and colleagues to ‘reach in’ and open up a conversation with someone they’re worried about.
Employers have a vital role in this, particularly during lockdown. If you’re living with an abusive partner or family member, a video call with work colleagues could be the only time you’re ‘allowed’ by the perpetrator to speak to someone outside your home.
For banks, pharmacies, supermarkets and other essential businesses who deal with customers, staff recognising the signs of abuse could provide someone with a vital opportunity to access support.
We were pleased that, when COVID-19 and lockdown hit, Aviva decided to bring forward their work with us on a programme of domestic abuse awareness activity, including creating Grow content (Grow is Aviva's learning management system, which hosts thousands of learning solutions to help colleagues develop their skills), implementing a new domestic abuse policy to support their staff, and training specialist teams to support both colleagues and customers experiencing abuse.
There is no ‘them and us’; domestic abuse can exist behind any front door, in any relationship and in any workplace. We’ve already had feedback from Aviva staff members we’ve trained, that they were able to use what they’d learned to support a friend.
We hope this training will have a ripple effect, and that every Aviva staff member and customer will know that if things are worrying at home, there is someone who will listen and support them.
Domestic abuse won’t go away when lockdown lifts. We hope that this conversation will continue, because we need to recognise that domestic abuse is everyone’s business.
"Domestic abuse is not acceptable, not inevitable – and together, we can make it stop."
We want to see a society where, if someone is experiencing abuse, the first person they tell gives them the right response – whether it’s a police officer, a friend, their GP, their line manager or their bank.
Domestic abuse is not acceptable, not inevitable – and together, we can make it stop.
Information and support if you’re experiencing abuse or worried about someone else.
If you are in immediate danger, please call 999 and ask for the police.
Silent calls to the police will work if you are not safe to speak – use the Silent Solution system and call 999 and then press 55 when prompted.
Emergency Text Service: If you can’t use a voice phone, you can register with the police text service - text REGISTER to 999. You will get a text which tells you what to do next. Do this when it is safe so you can text when you are in danger. Click here to find out more.
If you are not in immediate danger, please call one of the following helplines:
England: Freephone 24 hour National Domestic Abuse Helpline:
0808 2000 247 (run by Refuge)
Women's Aid live chat service (available Monday to Friday, 10am-12pm)
Northern Ireland: 0808 802 1414
Scotland: 0800 027 1234
Wales: 0808 8010 800
Dyn Wales/Dyn Cymru: 0808 801 0321 (for men in Wales experiencing domestic abuse)
Men's Advice Line: 0808 801 0327
Respect helpline: 0808 802 4040 (for anyone worried that they may be harming someone else)
Galop: 0800 999 5428 (national helpline for lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people experiencing domestic abuse)
Forced Marriage Unit: 0207 008 0151
Paladin - National Stalking Advocacy Service: 020 3866 4107