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Friends, family, colleagues, and neighbours play a vital role in responding to domestic abuse

By Blog Editor, IOE Digital, on 23 November 2022

Karen Schucan Bird, Carol Rivas, Martha Tomlinson, Nicola Stokes, Patricia Melgar Alcantud, Maria Vieites Casado.

Friday 25 November marks the start of 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence and we reflect on the crucial role that we, as colleagues, friends, family, or community members, can play in responding to domestic abuse. Women who experience abuse may tell someone within their familial or social network about their situation. Since estimates suggest that one in three women experience abuse in their lifetime, many of us will be the person told and our response can be vital. Evidence suggests that supportive reactions from friends and family can improve the wellbeing of victims and support further help-seeking.

The pandemic highlighted the crucial role that friends, family and colleagues can play. But research tells us that there are significant barriers to supporting victim-survivors of abuse. What are these and how can they be overcome?

Friends, family, colleagues, and neighbours don’t always recognise the signs of abuse, don’t know how to help, or fear repercussions of doing so

Earlier this year, UCL Global engagement funds helped to bring together academics, individuals with lived experience of abuse, campaign organisations and domestic abuse charities to discuss informal support. The SOL.NET research, funded by the Ministry of Science, Innovation and Universities of the Spanish Government, from our colleagues at the CREAUniversity of Girona in collaboration with different Spanish associations, highlighted that individuals often don’t help victims of abuse for fear of attack or retaliation from the perpetrator (Isolating Gender Violence).

Infographic by https://gabrielschucan.co.uk/

Wider research, informing a project by researchers at IOE Social Research Institute and SafeLives, points to a range of challenges that informal supporters face in recognising the signs of abuse and knowing how to respond even when they wish to. Funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (as part of UK Research and Innovation’s rapid response to Covid-19), this project aimed to identify programmes and activities from around the globe that seek to harness the support provided by friends, family, neighbours, and colleagues.

What you can do: supporting someone who is experiencing domestic abuse

There is lots of advice on how to overcome these barriers to supporting someone who is experiencing abuse. As part of their #ReachIn campaign, SafeLives outline five practical steps that you can take to help a friend, family member, colleague, or neighbour who has confided in you.

 How to help:

As a friend or family member or neighbour, it’s not your responsibility to stop the abuse. But you can do a lot to help by following a few simple steps.

1. Prepare

Think of safety first and don’t put yourself or your friend at risk.

    • Think about safe ways to meet or contact them when they’re alone
    • Know what help is available locally – try searching your local council website for ‘domestic abuse’
    • Have the numbers for the relevant national helplines to hand
    • Be led by what they think is safe

2. Ask

 Start conversations gently, conveying your concern.

    • “You haven’t been in touch much lately. Is everything OK?” 
    • “I’ve noticed you seem a bit down. Has anyone upset you?”
    • “I’m worried about how you’re doing during lockdown. Should I be?”

3. Listen

A common concern is feeling like you don’t know enough about domestic abuse to respond well. But simply listening can help someone to break the silence around their situation.

    • “Go on…”
    • “How do you feel about that?
    • “Thank you for telling me.”

4. Reassure

If someone tells you they are being abused, the important thing to convey is that you believe the person. And to let them know what’s happening to them is wrong. 

    • “I believe you.”
    • “It’s not your fault.”
    • “Thank you for telling me.”

5. Offer help

Make suggestions, not demands. It’s important not to pressure the person who is experiencing abuse. They need to make their own decisions in their own time.

    • Offer to ring a helpline to find out about support.
    • Offer to make a plan together on how to stay safe – take a look at our safety planning guide 
    • You could offer a place to stay if needed, or keep an emergency bag. Remember leaving an abusive partner can be dangerous. It should be done with the support of a specialist domestic abuse service.

Courtesy of https://safelives.org.uk

Equation provides a helpful guide on What should you say?. Women’s Aid outline guidance on how to supporting a friend, colleague or family member who has disclosed experiences of abuse and Refuge provide advice on what you can do to support someone experiencing abuse.  The SOL.NET research provides indicators to evaluate the social impact of this assistance as well as three key elements for effective support: not blaming them, making them the protagonists of their own process by highlighting their transformative potential, and promoting reflection on the socialization that women have experienced in their affective-sexual relationships.

Freephone 24-hour National Domestic Abuse Helpline 0808 2000 247

As we enter the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, we call on you to take action by equipping yourself with the knowledge and awareness about how to respond if/ when a friend, family member or colleague confides in you.

 

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