Reaching out for help can be daunting for survivors of domestic abuse.
Citizens Advice bureaux support about 13,000 survivors of domestic violence and coercive control every year. Often the main reason people seek help is not for the abuse itself but for financial or housing problems, meaning many are suffering in silence.
This presents a real challenge for support organisations and councils. It’s hard to ensure people are receiving the necessary support without knowing the full extent of their problems.
A third of our advisers who have handled a domestic abuse case said those who had experienced the abuse had told friends or family, but not professionals. In 2013 we ran a pilot to help encourage people to open up about their experience of abuse.
We asked a routine question to clients seeking our help with debt, benefits and housing and 27% of those who were asked revealed past or present abuse, compared with 0.8% across the service. We are rolling the pilot out to all bureaux and believe other local services can learn from this proactive approach too.
Many people would not seek help from someone outside their personal network because they did not recognise their relationship as abusive. Four in five of the advisers we spoke to had supported somebody who did not realise their experience constituted domestic abuse. The vast majority of these cases were non-physical forms of control, including emotional and financial abuse.
For councils or charities, identifying and helping people who are suffering is easier said than done. That’s why we’re developing tools that can be used by those on the frontline to improve recognition and reporting of any type of abuse.
Once abuse has been identified it is important the right support is available. The responsibility to help those who reach out often lies with local authorities and the nature of their response can turn people’s lives around. By spearheading multi-agency risk assessment conferences and other partnership working, many local authorities are taking the lead in providing timely support for survivors.
Citizens Advice is also seeing people whose needs have not been met, with housing a critical issue for those trying to move to a safe environment. Housing local residents is an enormous challenge for councils at a time of stretched budgets and an unrelenting housing crisis, but it is crucial that councils meet their legal duty to provide housing for those experiencing domestic abuse.
By mapping the journey of a local resident suffering domestic abuse, from their first contact with a local agency or Citizens Advice bureau through to resolution, councils should ensure that those who do come forward then get the right support.
Gillian Guy, chief executive, Citizens Advice