Being a victim of domestic violence can have a huge effect on your confidence and self esteem. This in turn can make it difficult to pluck up the courage to seek help. If you know someone you suspect is suffering domestic violence, there are lots of steps you can take to help them. And if you are a victim, there are many organisations that can help you become safe again.
How can I get help if I am affected by domestic violence?
There are many organisations that help people experiencing domestic violence and abuse. The government, the police, the health service and several charity organisations all have options for you, and places you can turn to for help. You can get advice, practical help, or support, depending on what you need. Here are some of the possible options for you.
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If you live in the UK
Phone the 24-hour National Domestic Violence Helpline on 0808 2000 247. This is free, confidential and always available. The person you speak to can give you information about help available to you, can discuss your options with you and help you make a choice. They won't force you to do anything you are not ready to do (such as phone the police or leave your partner). You may need somebody to talk to, and they can listen on the phone, or they can advise where you can go for counselling. They can refer you to a local support worker. If you wish to leave your partner, they can refer you to a place of safety (a refuge). They can refer you for legal advice.
Go to your GP. Your GP can help with any of the physical or mental ill effects of domestic violence, and offer support and treatment. They can refer you to the person in their team specially trained to help those experiencing domestic violence. This person may be able to help and support you, and help you to make a safety plan, or they may get help from the local MARAC.
MARAC stands for Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conference. It is a group of people who represent all the organisations who help those who experience domestic violence. This includes people from the police, social services, schools, women's aid/refuge, housing associations, health service and victim support service. They co-ordinate so that the relevant services for each person work together to protect and support them.
Police Domestic Violence Officers. Some officers are trained specially to offer advice and support to people experiencing domestic abuse. Your local police service may have additional information available.
Contact Women's Aid or visit their website. Women's Aid is a charity which helps women and children who experience domestic violence. There is a huge amount of useful information on their website. It includes recognising domestic violence and abuse, ways to get help, a "survivor's handbook", ways of keeping yourself safe, a website for children and young people affected by domestic violence ("The Hideout"), a forum for survivors, legal advice, and a wealth of other information.
If your abuser might consider getting specialist help
There are a number of possibilities. There are an increasing number of projects in the UK working with the perpetrators of domestic violence to try to prevent abuse. Your GP may know if there is a local one. The Respect Phoneline - 0808 802 4040 - is a charity which aims to provide help for perpetrators of domestic violence.
If you live outside the UK
Other helplines and agencies. There are many other sources of help worldwide, including support specifically for male victims of domestic abuse. An internet search or a local telephone book should reveal something for your area.
What can I do to help someone likely to be experiencing domestic violence?
Because domestic violence is so common, there is a good chance you may know somebody who is, or has been, affected. They may confide in you, or you may recognise some of the signs. For example, they may:
- Have unexplained injuries.
- Have become withdrawn, low or anxious.
- Stop seeing you as often.
- Not seem to have access to money.
- Frequently miss work or social events.
- Appear afraid of their partner/relative or anxious about what their partner/relative might do or say.
- Receive regular phone calls from their partner checking up on them.
- Talk about their partner's jealousy or possessiveness or unpredictable behaviour.
- Be regularly criticised or insulted or put down by their partner/relative in your presence.
Encourage your friend or relative to talk to you. Express concern, and if they haven't confided in you, start with nonspecific questions or comments to show you care. "Is everything OK at home?" "You seem worried about something. Can I help at all?"
Often it is difficult to understand why someone you care about stays in an abusive relationship. Try to understand, and support, not to judge them or become irritated. Some reasons people stay in an abusive relationship are:
- They are frightened of what their abuser may do. (A lot of murders relating to domestic violence happen after the person has left an abusive relationship.)
- They are worried their children will be taken away, or about the consequences for the children.
- They can't afford to live on their own.
- They have lost the self-confidence that they can manage on their own.
- They are embarrassed or ashamed of what has been happening to them.
- Cultural reasons.
- They don't think anyone will believe them.
- They don't think anyone can help them.
- They still love their partner.
You can help by being there to be supportive and non-judgmental. Don't tell them what to do, but help them work out the best solution for themself. All the advice options in the section "How can I get help if I am affected by domestic violence?" (above) offer help, advice and support to friends and family of victims of domestic violence. You can phone, or browse their websites to see what would help in your situation, and you can point your friend towards someone who can help.
Further reading and references
Home Office: Policy. Violence against women and girls in the UK; GOV.UK, March 2013
Improving safety, Reducing harm: Children, young people and domestic violence; Dept of Health, November 2009 (archived content)
Protecting people promoting health. A public health approach to violence prevention in England; Dept of Health, October 2012
Feder G, Davies RA, Baird K, et al; Identification and Referral to Improve Safety (IRIS) of women experiencing domestic violence with a primary care training and support programme: a cluster randomised controlled trial. Lancet. 2011 Nov 19378(9805):1788-95. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(11)61179-3. Epub 2011 Oct 12.
Buller AM, Devries KM, Howard LM, et al; Associations between Intimate Partner Violence and Health among Men Who Have Sex with Men: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. PLoS Med. 2014 Mar 411(3):e1001609. doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1001609. eCollection 2014 Mar.
Domestic violence and abuse: how health services, social care and the organisations they work with can respond effectively; NICE Public Health Guidance (February 2014)
Multi-agency statutory guidance on female genital mutilation; HM Government (April 2016)
The World's Women 2015. Trends and Statistics. Violence against Women. Chapter 6; United Nations Statistics Division
Preventing intimate partner and sexual violence against women: taking action and generating evidence; World Health Organization, 2010
Domestic abuse, sexual assault and stalking - Chapter 4: Focus on violent crime and sexual offences, Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW); Office for National Statistics (ONS), February 2017