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Time for radical rethink on domestic abuse

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SaveLives, domestic abuse, radical rethink, response, strategy, The Whole Picture,The current response plays a waiting game; we need to stop it happening in the first place.

National domestic abuse charity SafeLives has called for a radical rethink in the response to domestic abuse, stopping it before it starts rather than waiting for harm to happen.

Domestic abuse becomes a criminal justice problem when we don’t address it as early as we could.

Only one in five people experiencing abuse ever calls the police, but it impacts every hospital, GP surgery, workplace, school and street.

While police involvement is slowly rising as a proportion of all cases, we need to train and resource frontline services – both voluntary and statutory – on the basis that people must have help where and when they first need it, as well as when they’re in crisis.

This means coordinating available funding to maximise impact for whole families and communities, and society as a whole, and ensuring a distributed model in which every individual and organisation plays their part.

We know 1.5 million girls and 700,000 boys (0-15 year-olds) in the UK today will grow up to have an abusive partner at some point in their adult life.

More precisely, of all the babies born in the UK today – and each day – around 250 of the girls born will go on to have an abusive relationship in later life, unless changes are made.

And on 11 October, the International Day of the Girl, SafeLives launched its new strategy.

Called The Whole Picture, it calls on every individual and agency to act before harm is caused.

One recommendation is that the government creates its first ever national strategy on boys at risk of causing harm to those around them or to themselves.

To reduce domestic abuse, the charity is calling on a much wider understanding of the causes and consequences of abuse.

SafeLives said a change of approach would mean more people need to play their part; specialist domestic abuse services are vital, but they can’t do all this alone.

For although they often have incredible skill in working with both children and adults in abusive situations, their ability to do any meaningful work with children is severely constrained by threadbare, short-term resourcing.

“We urge the government to look at how we respond to boys who may be showing signs of becoming abusive,” Suzanne Jacob, Chief Executive of SafeLives, said.

“Behaviour is much harder to change once it’s become embedded.

“To prevent future victims, we need much greater investment in stopping abusive behaviour in the first place.

“We have to be honest about the uncomfortable truth that many boys and young men close to us may become abusive, and we have to do something about that – for everyone’s sake.”

“We need to stop treating people as a set of issues to be fixed and instead respond to the whole person,” she continued.

“For example, we know girls living with abuse are more likely to experience eating disorders and mental health concerns, this cannot be responded to separately.

“We have to place the whole person at the centre of our response, responding to their whole experience and context at the same time.

“We still think that domestic abuse happens to someone else; as if ignoring it will make it go away. When we know there are so many girls and boys at risk – we must ask – who has the power to help them, and help them at the earliest stage?

“It means we need to re-examine the role of health visitors, nurseries, schools, GPs and the solicitors, social workers, employers and businesses involved in the lives of their parents.

“Because we still talk so little about what goes on behind closed doors, we’re leaving children at risk and accepting as inevitable what will happen to them as they in turn become adults.

“That’s an extreme form of defeatism.”

“Things can be so different,” Jacob added.

“Domestic abuse is not acceptable and it’s not inevitable. We can make sure every girl and boy can live the life they want, free from abuse.

“The current response plays a waiting game.

“It is unacceptable that we know so many millions of children will experience abuse as adults or are already experiencing it at home, and yet we do nothing.

“We wait for these children to become adults, to form abusive relationships, for those relationships to become dangerous and seriously harmful – and then we try to help.

“We want to stop it happening in the first place. We do not believe domestic abuse is inevitable.”

To read the The Whole Picture, click here.

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