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A new way out of domestic abuse?

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Women's Aid, Changes That Last, SafeLives, domestic abuseThree main steps aim to get victims of domestic abuse to safety, freedom and independence quickly.

On average two women are killed by their partner or ex-partner every week in England and Wales.

The national domestic abuse charity Women’s Aid and domestic abuse charity SafeLives launched a new comprehensive approach and scheme to tackle domestic abuse called ‘Change that Lasts’ recently, after reviewing current approaches to tackling domestic abuse and the systems in place which are clearly not working effectively.

‘Change that Lasts’ is being piloted in Northumbria, Nottinghamshire and Surrey to help women experiencing domestic abuse receive support earlier, and help them to achieve long-term recovery and independence.

It is a shift from a ‘risk’-based approach to one that starts with the individual needs of survivors – including their safety.

The focus of risk shifts to the perpetrator, who is held to account and provided with opportunities to change their behaviour.

Survivors frequently report to Women’s Aid that opportunities to help them were missed.

The charity therefore reviewed how it works and proposed a new model to provide a framework that facilitates the shortest, and/or most effective route to safety, freedom and independence for each survivor.

This programme will put the survivor at the heart of it, basing the support given on their individual situation and the resources available to them; for example, support from her friends, workplace, or a family network.

‘Change that Lasts’ is formed of three main schemes which will work together to get victims of domestic abuse to safety, freedom and independence quickly: ‘Ask Me’, ‘Trusted Professional’ and ‘Specialist Support Services’.

Ask Me’ is a community-based campaign, aiming to create communities in which survivors can disclose abuse early, and access support quickly.

The idea is to create safe spaces in local business and community settings where women experiencing coercive control and other forms of domestic abuse can talk to someone and get help they need quickly.

‘Ask Me’ appeals for residents who work in jobs that interact frequently with local communities to become an ‘Ask Me Ambassador’ and help spot victims of domestic abuse and signpost women for additional help to their local services.

The ‘Ask Me’ pilot was, as we reported, launched earlier this year in Brighton & Hove & East Sussex; Tri-borough (Kensington and Chelsea, Westminster, and Hammersmith and Fulham) and Powys with a call for people to be part of this element of the change.

The second element, ‘Trusted Professional’, is centred around support and professional services, and will provide specific training to those working in a service who are likely to have contact with victims of domestic abuse – for example a health visitor, children’s centre, drug/alcohol support, housing and family intervention.

The training they will receive will help these professionals to identify the signs of domestic abuse and violence, provide support and advice including safety-planning and signpost victims accordingly.

‘Specialist Support Services’, is a specialist domestic violence services-focussed scheme working with local services to adopt a strengths-based, needs-led, trauma-informed approach, reflective of the Change That Lasts model.

All three schemes making up ‘Change that Lasts’ will be rolled out later this year.

For many women, when they first disclose they are experiencing domestic abuse no one listens to them.

No one talks to them about how to stop the abuse, despite the fact that nobody knows the perpetrator better than they do.

Often women who do say anything about their abuse are assessed by domestic abuse professionals for risk, and then divided into categories.

Those at “standard” or “medium” risk are left to fend for themselves, or offered an hour of counselling a week with little support to escape their abuser.

Not surprisingly, many women struggle to escape the abuse permanently, build their independence, and get their lives back.

Too often any other kind of approach is considered ‘too complicated’ and ‘too expensive’. So to make their case for Change That Lasts clearer, Women’s Aid have created some infographics, visualising some of these women’s journeys, and the journeys they could have taken.

These illustrate the enormous cost, in human and financial terms, of not listening to women and responding to their needs.

Change That Lasts will be trying this instead:

Listenalways listen to survivors and place their needs at the centre;

Ask & Actask the right questions safely and act appropriately;

Specialist support know when and how to refer to your local specialist service;

Toolsprovide clear procedures, roles, information and training across agencies;

Sustained independence and freedomwork together for an independent future for survivors.

Polly Neate, chief executive of Women’s Aid, said: “Our decades of experience working with women, and our research, have confirmed that we need a better way than the current approach to domestic abuse.

“Too often our response to women who are in appalling situations is still based on an inadequate understanding of what they really need to be safe and to recover.

“We end up focusing on short-term measures which do not enable families to thrive in the future.

“By listening to women we can provide help earlier, and make sure that the help is effective and long-lasting, leading to true independence.

“We are thrilled that we can finally put into practice our innovative response to domestic abuse that has survivors at its heart – and will lead to long-term change.”

For further information, or to find out how you can get involved, click here.

If you or someone you know needs help, you can call the Freephone 24-hour National Domestic Violence Helpline on 0808 2000 247.

In an emergency – if you or someone else are being or feel threatened, for example – call 999.

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