What can I do to keep those in my community safe?

Domestic abuse happens in every community, including yours. 1 in 4 women will have experienced domestic abuse in their lifetime, and 1 in 6 men will have experienced abuse. If you think about how many people live in your block of flats, your street or your town, these numbers add up - quickly. Domestic abuse does not discriminate and there is no 'typical victim', abuse can happen to anyone, of any gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality, gender or class so it's important that we bare this in mind when thinking about our role in keeping people safe. 

Abusers use lots of different tactics for the same purpose - to isolate and control their victims. The current restrictions in which we are all living give abusers the perfect excuse to control and many will become increasingly controlling during this period of isolation. So, what can you do? Now, more than ever, we need to connect with our communities and reach out to those in our networks to check on their health and well-being.

Talking About Abuse

We often have conversations with survivors about their experiences and to understand how they access support we ask if they have ever talked about the abuse before. So many of them say no... because nobody ever asked. As friends, colleagues, neighbours, employers, we all have a responsibility to check in with each other regarding our emotional health and well-being. Domestic Abuse can happen to anyone and the chances are that you may know someone impacted by abuse – a parent, sibling, friend or colleague who is experiencing abuse or has done in the past.  

If you are trying to support someone, unless the person confides in you and are open about their experiences it can be difficult to address your concerns directly.  

Knowing what to do when you are worried for someone you care about and supporting someone experiencing abuse is difficult – try and make sure that you look after yourself during this time and do not put yourself at risk. It is important that you do not speak to the abuser – this can put yourself and the other person at risk.  

That said, there are some basic things that you can do such as; 

  • Listen 
  • Let them know that you believe them and acknowledge that it is a big step to tell some-one what is going on 
  • Take it seriously, recognise that they may be very frightened and at risk of harm 
  • Let them know that it is not their fault – it is not unusual for abusers to blame the victim/survivor
  • Don’t tell them what to do – encourage them to explore their options when they are ready, in their own time. Leaving an abusive relationship can be a dangerous time 
  • Know your local services – have telephone numbers ready or offer to go to appointments with them. This could be seeing a solicitor or reporting the abuse to the police if they want too.  
  • Consider anyone else that might be at risk, are there any children or other dependents in the home? Please refer to our other services page for who to speak to if you are worried about their safety. 
  • Encourage them to access health services if they need too – they may be feeling low or have suffered physical harm 
  • Offer a safe place for them to store important belongings, correspondence or an emergency bag 

Survivors of domestic abuse often want to access specialist support – do not try to influence a victim’s decisions about staying in, or leaving, an abusive relationship. This is their choice.

The Bystander Approach

We are all bystanders, all the time, every day. We constantly witness events around us, sometimes we recognise those events as problematic. When we see something that concerns us, we have a decision, we either say or do something (become and active bystander) or let it go. There are lots of different things that influence our decisions to be an active or passive bystander including social norms and whether or not bystanders feel empowered to intervene.

Public Health England first commissioned the University of the West of England to develop a public health intervention toolkit for the prevention of sexual coercion and domestic abuse in university and higher education settings but the message is clear and counts for all communities.

As a bystander, you can intervene to stop events before they happen or while they are happening – you can prevent the potential outcome, as well as deal with an outcome. Being a bystander is not all about confrontation and you should never put yourself in danger. If you believe that someone is in immediate danger and have concerns for an individual’s safety always call 999. It can be worrying if you overhear an incident of domestic abuse as a neighbour and you may not automatically want to call the police because of a number of reasons, fears of repercussion, not wanting to get involved and not knowing whether it is serious enough. Domestic abuse is protected by silence – if we do not speak out against it, we come a part of the problem. If you hear abuse or are worried about someone’s safety, call the police in an emergency and check in with that person when it is safe to do so. You can talk to them about what you heard and ask if they would like you to call the police if it happens again – this can make it easier to call in the future.

There are other more general ways that we can intervene too, such as:

  • Using body language to signal disapproval (not appropriate when someone is at imminent risk of harm)
  • Distraction
  • Interruption
  • Facebook post
  • Choosing not to laugh at a joke
  • Being supportive to friends – offering support numbers

Building on Community Strengths

As we adapt to our 'new normal' we have seen the rise of community groups across the UK, bringing people together to provide support and assistance to those who are at risk or simply need a helping hand during these unprecedented times. Individuals across the country are volunteering to help where and when they can, for our NHS, for local community groups distributing food and essentials or to keep in touch with those further isolated by the crisis. Here we have the foundations of what could be a life-line for those experiencing abuse. Home should be a safe place, but for those living with abuse, isolation is incredibly frightening and a dangerous situation. We are currently developing a support package for those volunteering on the front-line, of how to safely ask the question about domestic abuse and make sure that those who need it know how to safely access support. For the latest information, please follow our social media channels for updates and how to access our services.