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Ask the Expert: Accessing support for sufferers of domestic violence

Ask the Expert is our new series, in which we ask experts about how the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting their services, and how they’re adapting to support their communities.

Our first guest interviewee is Dickie James MBE, CEO of Staffordshire Women's Aid, part of the national charity working to end domestic abuse against women and children.

We asked Dickie about how sufferers of domestic violence and abuse can continue to access support during COVID-19.

The government have just launched the #YouAreNotAlone campaign. What are the key issues the campaign is tackling?

The #YouAreNotAlone initiative from the Home Office aims to reassure domestic abuse sufferers that support is available during the coronavirus lockdown, and warn perpetrators of abuse that their behaviour is never acceptable.

It is designed to encourage victims to contact the police, or local support services, if they can, and to convey the message that the police will remain vigilant and available regardless of the lockdown situation.

Members of the public have been asked to show solidarity for abuse victims by sharing a photo of a heart on their palm, and asking others to do the same. I think this is a really positive, and we do need to reach out to our communities in being aware of domestic abuse, and contact the police if they feel anyone in their neighbourhood is at risk.

How are refuges, and support services, adapting to manage both with demand and with movement restrictions?

It is very challenging, but most refuges have worked really hard to manage things, keeping women and children safe from their abusers as well as the pandemic as far as possible.

Support in the community is now being done remotely, via telephone, messaging and video. Helplines and live messaging are still operating.

My organisation runs a refuge with 12 self-contained apartments, and there are 24 children of all ages living there. It is tough enforcing social distancing, particularly when children are already so traumatised by their experiences of living with violence, but our sector is incredibly committed and we are being resourceful and creative.

What should people do if they're victim of, or suspect they know a victim of, domestic violence?

If possible, find a way to access support - even if the only thing you can do is tell a neighbour or close friend. I would like to see our local communities mobilise support, and ring helplines for advice, or ring the police if they have any doubt about someone’s safety.

If someone feels unable to call, or trapped, what should they do?

Victims can use the Silent Solution, which means they can ring the police, and if they are unable to talk, just press 55. The police will then flag this up as a domestic abuse call, and carry out a safe and well check.

One of the key messages of the #YouAreNotAlone campaign is that regardless of lockdown, you can leave your home and seek support in a situation where your home is abusive. You won’t get into trouble for leaving home to seek help in such a situation.

The national Women’s Aid Live Messaging service is a really useful service because it doesn’t involve speaking over the telephone. They offer expert support and advice, and can give helpful information about what is available to victims locally.

You can read more about the support available if you, or someone you know, is suffering from domestic abuse or violence on our dedicated advice page.

30th April 2020