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Developing a supportive housing model for survivors of domestic abuse

Natalie Blagrove is a Senior Knowledge Hub Advisor at SafeLives. For the last six months she's been seconded to Shared Lives Plus, our partner in a new pilot to develop and test supportive housing options for survivors of domestic abuse.

I recently wrote about the domestic abuse project I have been seconded to work on for Shared Lives Plus; six months on I thought it was time for an update. It’s been a busy six months, with some real highlights as well as some challenges.  

The good stuff  

Supported by the local domestic abuse services, I visited two of the pilot sites to hold survivor consultations. It’s so important to get the thoughts, ideas and opinions of people with lived experience and it’s something that both Shared Lives Plus and SafeLives feel is crucial to any successful project. I have to say, I was a little nervous about presenting this idea to survivors.  Would they like it, would they think it was rubbish? Fortunately, the vast majority of the women I spoke to saw a place for Shared Lives; a safe place to live with a carefully matched and approved Shared Lives carer in the carer’s home. They thought there was a place for this type of accommodation in a survivor’s road to recovery, perhaps when moving on from refuge. It could be a way to help survivors build their confidence before moving on to live independently. All of this was music to my ears, giving me the confidence to move the project forward. 

“Being a sufferer of domestic violence makes you vulnerable, so being in a loving caring home is what’s needed.” 

 “A family environment would aid in emotional healing and the building of trust and confidence. I had no stable family so had to learn through trial and error what a stable family was.” 

Challenges 

I have to admit, the challenges have mainly been finding the right people to talk to in the pilot areas – who knew it would take so much detective work? Building those relationships is so important though, if we’re to make the project a sustainable success.  

From the survivors I spoke to, there were also some concerns about the risk associated with a project like this: 

“One of the issues I see is if an abuser was to find the victim and cause damage to property or the people whom the victim was living with.” 

“The challenges would be in keeping everyone safe.” 

However, with careful planning and collaborative working with the necessary stakeholders we believe that a Shared Lives arrangement can offer an alternative housing option that is both safe and supportive.  

What do we hope to achieve?  

For me, this is simple. I want to be able to give victims and survivors of domestic abuse more choices when it comes to housing. The Shared Lives model won’t suit everyone, but having spoken to survivors and professionals, I believe it will suit some. So, we need to make this work. We need local authorities, domestic abuse services, Shared Lives Schemes, service users and other stakeholders working together to ensure that survivors have a range of options available to them.   

“I feel I haven’t got a right to complain.” [about poor accommodation]

“Beggars can’t be choosers.” 

Next steps 

Over the next few months, we’ll be looking to develop the framework that will support this housing model, exploring issues such as referral pathways, risk management and moving on. This won’t necessarily be easy but, working together with a clear goal in mind – and a plan to get there – we can develop Shared Lives in a way that keeps survivors of domestic abuse safe and secure, and helps them to rebuild their lives. 

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We need to make people safe, sooner - regardless of who they are or where they live

In this blog Jane Evans, Senior Research Analyst at SafeLives explores the findings from our recent National Briefing on length of abuse and access to services. Jane talks about why it is so important we develop our understanding of the length of time people experience abuse for and the barriers to accessing support. 

The average length of time someone will live with domestic abuse before getting help is three years. This is a statistic I’ve heard countless times since working for SafeLives, but it’s so important that we don’t stop questioning why, or thinking about what it really means.  

Three years is a long time. Just think about the last three years of your life and what has changed for you in that time. Now imagine that throughout those years your life was dominated by a fear of someone close to you, perhaps even a fear that they would kill you.  

That's why SafeLives' research team has been trying to unpick this statistic and understand the barriers to getting support sooner. Sadly, what we found is that three years is just the beginning for many people; who you are, and where you are, has a significant impact on how fast you can expect to get the help you need.  

If you live in Scotland you are likely to experience abuse for a year longer (four years) before accessing support. For those at risk of ‘honour’-based violence (HBV) the average length of abuse is five years. And those aged over 60 will typically experience abuse for a staggering six and a half years before getting help. Our Whole Lives report and our Spotlights on older people and HBV explore some of the barriers for these groups. But for each person there is a unique set of circumstances behind the numbers, and it is the way these circumstances intersect that influences how long it takes to get help. 

For example, one factor might be your living situation. Victims living with the perpetrator will experience abuse for an average of six years. This is not so surprising when we consider that many will see this as a choice between staying with their abuser and putting themselves at risk of homelessness. We know that those who are older or experiencing HBV are more likely to be living with the perpetrator of abuse and may have added barriers to disrupting their home life, such as disabilities or a strong reliance on their local community. It is combinations like this that can leave people 'hidden' from services for so long.  

This research is also a reminder that getting support isn’t as easy as picking up the phone, even if there is someone waiting on the other end of the line. Referring yourself to a domestic abuse service is daunting, especially if your abusive partner or family member has made you feel unworthy, that you won’t be believed, or that the abuse is your own fault. Those who self-referred into services typically experienced abuse for almost five years before doing so. The good news is that professionals can help by spotting the abuse early and making this referral on behalf of the victim. Those referred into services by the police or health had experienced the abuse for less than half that time (2.1 years) when they got help. 

These are just some of the complex and wide ranging factors our analysis has identified. Our briefing paper outlines the full findings, as well as recommendations for change. We will continue to explore all of these circumstances, and how they influence access to services, through our Spotlights series. We will also continue to work with services to collect vital data on these issues through our Insights outcome measurement tool. We hope this research will fuel conversations about how we can make people safer, sooner, regardless of who they are or where they live. 

Read the full briefing paper

Insights 
Insights is our easy to use, flexible outcome measurement tool, enabling you to collect, interpret and use evidence to improve your understanding of how your service is helping victims of domestic abuse. You’ll also benefit by sharing in our learnings as our research team analyse the entire dataset to identify what effective support for victims, survivors and their families looks like across the UK.  

Find out more or contact the team at rea@safelives.org.uk  

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'Young people deserve a better response' - the importance of age appropriate support for young people experiencing domestic abuse

Lucy McDonald is SafeLives’ Training Development Officer for Scotland. In this blog she talks about the importance of a specialist, age appropriate response for young people experiencing domestic abuse and the benefits of our 'Responding to young people' training. 

In the early 2000s as a keen new graduate, I was working occasional shifts in a hostel for young homeless people. This is where I first encountered domestic abuse, although I didn’t immediately realise it at the time. 

Many of the young residents were in relationships and I recall the ongoing exasperation and disdain from staff about the regular ‘dramas’ around these relationships – the constant ‘on-off’ status and regular ‘arguments’. During one of these so-called arguments I remember one of the young women sustained injuries to her face and head. While the staff  responded with care and empathy around the physical harm,  there was no real understanding of the dynamics of the situation and her vulnerability, never mind the escalating risk that was boiling up under that roof. I don’t recall anyone naming the behaviour of the young man as ‘domestic abuse’, and I very much doubt he was challenged about his role in the relationship, his sense of entitlement or taking responsibility for his actions.  

Pressure was put on the young victim to take control, end the relationship and ‘sort herself out’. There was no risk assessment, no safety plan, no effective support put in place. There was frustration about her lack of engagement with staff. Shortly after the violent incident she disclosed she was pregnant and I remember much speculation in the staff room about whether she was being truthful or not. There was no belief or validation, nor any consideration of what the pregnancy might mean for her

Young people deserve a better response than this. Thankfully there is now much greater awareness about domestic abuse, coercive control and risk. The dialogue is shifting from ‘it’s her own fault’ to ‘he needs to be challenged’. At SafeLives, we cover these topics in detail in our  Responding Safely to Young People Experiencing Domestic Abuse training session. We want to make sure that anyone experiencing domestic abuse gets the right response for them – whoever they are. 

We begin by looking at brain development of adolescents to consider why their risk taking behaviour may differ from that of adults. Then we consider the nuances of how ‘domestic abuse’ and coercive control may develop in relationships between young people, including how, among other things, the language may be quite different. Then we go on to consider safe and effective communication and practical interventions with both the young victim and the person causing harm. We spend time looking at SafeLives’ Young Person’s Dash Risk Checklist and how to involve young people effectively in its application.  Finally we explore support and safety planning, with emphasis on building resilience and support networks for young people.

If you work with young people in any capacity, this practical session will consolidate your understanding of the specific dynamics of domestic abuse for these young people and equip you with practical tools to address the risks and support needs. It will support you to engage effectively and consider how you might create lasting change for that young person. And, as with all our training sessions, you will get a chance to interact and share ideas with a range of practitioners from across Scotland.

We’ve delivered this training in Aberdeen, Shetland and Scottish Borders.  We are now taking the session to Glasgow and Stirling.

Glasgow
Monday 25th June
Apply now

Stirling
Tuesday 4th September
Apply now

Cost: £95 for statutory organisations and £75 for voluntary sector

Find out more

Children are not 'hidden' victims of domestic abuse - we simply need to see them

Sonal is the Head of Consultancy at SafeLives. Here she talks about the One Front Door model and why it is so important that we look at the whole picture for the whole family so we can start making vital links between the needs of individuals and the families they belong to. 

Each year, nearly two million people experience domestic abuse. It’s time we recognise the full scale of this epidemic and the impact it has on the whole family – including children.

Recent SafeLives’ research estimates that at the time they start primary school at least one child in every classroom will have lived with domestic abuse since they were born. They have lived with abuse for their whole lives, and know nothing else. Yet nearly 40% of children living in households with domestic abuse are not known to children’s services.

We owe it to children to provide the right support, at the right time, to keep them safe and help them rebuild and recover. If we don’t, the consequences are devastating. Over half of children exposed to domestic abuse had difficulty sleeping, and almost a third felt like the abuse was their fault. The same children exhibit higher rates of behavioural problems and engage in more risky behaviour, making them vulnerable to other abuse or harm as they grow up.

Family members and their vulnerabilities interconnect. People do not operate in silos and neither should we. If information is not shared, we deal with one person and one concern at a time – through different professionals with different agendas. We are missing opportunities to help and lives are being put unnecessarily at risk.

But if we work together, and build a picture of each family, that reflects how people actually live their lives, we can help people earlier, and more effectively.

One Front Door

SafeLives introduced the One Front Door model to overcome this problem. One Front Door is our vision for a transformation of local systems, processes and responses so they start making vital links between the needs of individuals and the families they belong to.

One Front Door will facilitate earlier intervention and swifter, pre-emptive action by a multi-agency specialist team who will identify the needs and risks to all family members at the same time.

The first stage of One Front Door focuses on bringing together two key elements: child safeguarding and domestic abuse. SafeLives are working with seven local authorities across England to pilot this model, helping to make it sustainable and effective. The seven sites we will be working with are:

  • Suffolk
  • Bexley
  • St Helens
  • North Tyneside
  • Norfolk
  • North Somerset
  • West Sussex

Our learning so far

We have found that the current system for safeguarding children, protecting victims of domestic abuse, and challenging perpetrators works well – but separately. Referrals for child safeguarding are largely considered with only the child at risk in mind, with each incident being looked at in isolation.

A shared understanding of risk and need is required across all agencies. Risk ratings are not used consistently at initial referral or at the end of assessment in a way that is understood by all agencies working with members of the same family.

The case management systems used by different agencies often do not integrate with each other. In some local authority areas, multiple systems are used which impedes effective information sharing. This can mean children’s social care workers are assessing the safety of children at risk without learning that police colleagues in the same area know that the child’s primary carer is at high risk of serious harm or murder.

Trialling a One Front Door approach has led to broader, integrated action planning for all family members. We have strengthened agencies’ understanding of domestic abuse and their ability to work with perpetrators of abuse. We are committed to improving the response to domestic abuse and child safeguarding and will use the learnings from of our partner sites to ensure more families get the right support at the right time to make them safe and well.

“Early intervention is the key. We know that the super-controlling 15-year-old boyfriend today could become a high risk perpetrator in years to come. SafeLives have helped us to understand the risks posed by perpetrators of abuse.”
Seb Smith, Head of Service, Suffolk MASH and One Front Door Partner

We’re pleased to see that the Government are also taking steps to improve the response to domestic abuse for the whole family, with the introduction of a new Domestic Abuse and Violence Bill. We must take this opportunity to ensure the impact on children is a key focus and is considered by courts when sentencing.

For too long children have been the ‘hidden’ victims of domestic abuse. But it’s time we realise that being ‘in the other room’ does not protect them from harm. We need a joined up, consistent approach to domestic abuse that sees every single individual and family member and responds to their needs. Only then can we truly put an end to this epidemic.

For more information about our One Front Door work, contact Sonal Shenai, Head of Consultancy at sonal.shenai@safelives.org.uk 

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Sophie*'s story

In this piece Sophie* talks to SafeLives Knowledge Hub Advisor Collette Eaton-Harris about the sexual violence she experienced from a partner as a teenager, and some of the wider issues that bisexual women face.

Warning: contains descriptions of sexual violence

The relationship started when we were 15 and ended when we were both about 21. We were at school, I think we had some classes together. It was kind of my first proper relationship. It was a pretty average kind of teenager relationship. But before we even slept together there were kind of a few things that didn’t seem right. He was trying to go at a pace much quicker than I wanted to, because neither of us had slept with anyone before, obviously we were both very young.  And he wanted to move to that stage a lot quicker than I wanted to move to that stage, which I think is a very common thing amongst teenagers. 

But even the first time we had any kind of sexual contact above kissing, was a little bit forceful. You know, like he kind of tried to hold me in place, because I would say, “Get off, I don’t want to do this, you’re hurting, like you’ve got to get off me now.”  And he kind of used his body weight to like keep me pressed up against a wall, as it were.  And he was like, “No, you’ve just got to relax.  And then it will be fun, like you’re going to want it in a minute.” So eventually I had to use some force to get him to get off me.  And so that for me was like the first red flag, and we had quite a big fight about that.

“Each time I managed to rationalise it to myself”

Then it was kind of okay after that for a while, but I guess that was the first time we had any contact like that, and it was in complete violation of my boundaries.  And so it just kind of set a precedent that I wouldn’t leave him if he did stuff like this to me.  So there wasn’t really any motivation for him to not try and push my boundaries constantly.  That was only about 15 that happened, it was only a couple of months after we started dating. 

And kind of as things went on, a lot of the time, everything we did was on his terms rather than mine.  And, you know, he quite often went beyond boundaries I had set. And then each time I managed to rationalise it to myself, my God, he’s just trying to, you know, I’m still learning, he’s still learning, blah, blah, blahHe doesn’t know what he’s doing, but eventually it just kind of kept escalating like that. You know, that thing about the frog being put in cold water? The water was already quite warm when I got put in it.  But it just kept getting hotter anyway.

The things he would say to me would be like, “Oh, well you know, my friends’ girlfriends let them do this.  And other girls want to do this, so why don’t you want to do it?  And I’ve seen it like on the internet” and blah, blah, blah.  So, you know, it felt normal at the time.  But then obviously looking back, it wasn’t the same as other peoples’ relationships.

I came out very young. I came out to my friends at 14. So he was already aware of my identity when we started dating at 15, which I think is a little uncommon. But I was just very aware of it. I think he knew that it was quite isolating for me because we grew up in a very rural place.  And it was like 2008, so there wasn’t the awareness of the identities that there is now, I think. And there wasn’t LGBT school groups or any places for me to access at that time.  And although some of my friends had already come out, it was very much like the LGBT spaces were aimed at gay people, rather than bi people.  So he knew that it was a struggle for me, that I kind of was like, well, I should just be a lesbian, why can’t I just do that?  That was something I was quite angry about in myself.  And so sometimes he would use that because he knew that I wanted to kind of prove to myself that I really was bisexual instead of gay or straight.  And so he would say like, “Well, maybe you don’t want to do it because you are just a lesbian. And like you’re just not accepting this, admitting it to yourself.” He never called me straight or said I was straight.  But he would say like, “Maybe you’re not bisexual.  Maybe you’re a lesbian and you just can’t like come out to yourself.” Which, you know, is a stereotype that a lot of us hear.

“There are real world consequences of barring people from what might be their only resource to validation of community”

So it’s obviously quite isolating to grow up in that situation of not knowing many other people around you.  And it was definitely something that had an effect on my self-esteem and mental health. Some people were very much like, “Okay, whatever.”  But it doesn’t quite feel the same, does it, they say “I support you.”  But then at the same time they make jokes, “Ha ha, that’s so gay.” Especially back then, this was like seven or eight years ago, that was very common.

I used websites like Tumblr to access other bisexual people and kind of find some validation that it was kind of okay to have this identity.  When I went to uni I tried to join the LGBT group there and it was a bad experience.  Again somebody tried to make it very clear to me that like this is a space for gay people who were either in same sex relationships, or want to be. Like coming there when you have a boyfriend you’re not necessarily welcomed.

We were at a social and you know how these things go, where people are like, “How do you identify?”  And so I’d be like, “I’m bisexual” and then the same person would come up and kind of enter into this conversation, “she’s got a boyfriend though” Just making it very clear to everyone like, “She says she’s bisexual, but she’s got a boyfriend.” So that made me very uncomfortable.  So I didn’t engage with the LGBT group very much for the first two years that I was in uni. In the third year we had a new president, it was very good after that.  But for the first two years it was kind of a drinking society for gay people. So, you know, that wasn’t something that I felt I could access or feel very supported in. I got the comment from lesbians quite often, like, you know, one girl who was a lesbian told me like, “Straight people don’t want you because they think you’re gay and we don’t want you because we think you’re straight.” I had comments like that, you know, occasionally.  There are real world consequences of barring people from what might be their only resource to validation of community.  And I think for women who have experienced sexual violence, it’s really important to have that community.  And then feeling…and I’m sure you’ve experienced it, where you want to go to an event but then you’re like, “Oh, no, is someone going to make a comment that I shouldn’t really be here because I’m like, you know, actually straight?”

Two studies I’ve looked at from America – there isn’t any that I can find here in the UK – have found that bi women are more likely than both straight or gay women to experience sexual violence.  And one of them is that 75% have experienced any kind of sexual violence, it’s incredibly high numbers.  And then I’ve been speaking to some girls about their experiences.  You know, there are similar themes running through all of them, like I was seen as being promiscuous.  And I was seen as being up for anything.  And this person thought they could take advantage of that.

“That was the first time I really admitted to myself like it’s not okay for this to have happened”

There was always kind of a nagging feeling in the back of my mind, because it’s very easy to go through the experiences where somebody is having sex with you, but you’re not having sex with them.  And often I’d end up in tears and like, well, disassociating and trying to get away from the environment.  But it’s very easy kind of afterwards to go like, well, maybe I did want him, maybe I didn’t say no enough.  So although I had a kind of nagging feeling in me that like this isn’t right, it was far too easy to rationalise that away.

There was kind of a turning point when…usually he would try and use coercion at first, kind of like, Come on do this, or if you won’t do that, do this” and “why won’t you do it?”  And that kind of stuff until eventually I’d be like, “Okay.”  But the one occasion that was quite eye opening for me was when he’d been drinking and he went in straightaway, got on top of me and pinned me down.  Even though I’d said like no several times, and nothing actually ended up happening that night, whereas on other occasions it had escalated.  But then I spoke to some friends about it and I was like, “Hey, this happened last night, it was a bit gross.”  And my friends are all very jokey people, but they went very serious and were like, “That’s not okay that that happened.  And he should not be doing that to you at all, and that’s completely wrong.”  And so that was kind of a bit of a wake-up call that I’d had.  It was the first time I’d ever mentioned that things were maybe not what they seemed.  And to have that validation actually it wasn’t right, it was probably what caused me to end it. We ended up staying together for a couple of months after that.  And then eventually I got out of the relationship with some help from my current girlfriend.  But that was the first time I really admitted to myself like it’s not okay for this to have happened.

I think you need to be aware of your own shame around your sexuality and address that. And find things that make you feel good and positive about being a bi woman.  Because I think, you know, there is a lot of shame and stigma around it.  And I think it’s easy to let that make you think, well, I feel bad about this, so it’s okay for other people to make me feel bad about it and use it against me.  So I think kind of addressing that and finding as much positivity as you can, is a good thing.

“trusting that voice in you, because it was there for me the whole time, saying, this isn’t okay

And just understanding that it’s meant to be fun, it’s not meant to be like a chore.  And you’re not meant to be doing things that you don’t want to do.  My ex-partner would say to me, “Well, you don’t have sex with me enough.  You don’t do this enough.  And like you’re not fulfilling my needs.”  And it made it feel like a chore, like, you know, okay, I’ve got to  do the dishwasher and then I’ve got to have sex with this person who I don’t want to have sex with.”  I know it sounds crazy, but that’s kind of how it came in my mindset.  But I think understanding that like just because somebody sees you as someone quite sexual, you don’t have to be.

And then obviously talking to people that you trust as soon as you feel like something’s wrong.  Especially if you have other bi women to talk to it about, I think that’s really important.  That they can give you that validation of, hey, you’re right, that’s not okay.  And let’s see what we can do to help you. I was lucky as a teenager because there were a few other bi women around me. 

And trusting that voice in you, because it was there for me the whole time, saying, like, this isn’t okay.  But I just, it was so easy, because I was so upset with myself and like (a) I was a teenage girl, like all teenage girls hate themselves as a little bit, I think.  And (b) having that extra dollop of figuring out your sexuality and your shame around it.  It was so easy to just use those voices to silence that little nagging feeling.

I think what needs to be addressed and looked into is what does a healthy relationship look like to somebody who’s bisexual and dating someone of like another sexual identity?  And how can they be better allies?  And how can we understand what we deserve from them?  I think that’s something that’s not really spoken about, but I think needs to be.

*name changed          

If you're experiencing abuse from a partner, or are worried about your relationship, help is available.           

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