Domestic abuse continues to torment many of our friends, family members, colleagues and neighbours behind closed doors.
Abuse is felt by many from all areas of society but women are disproportionately impacted – with the 2020 Crime Survey for England and Wales noting that 1.6 million women reported experiencing domestic abuse.
Through campaign work, offering resources and calling for donations, Women’s Aid is able to help women on a national scale with practical information and emotional support.
Thanks to donations, Women’s Aid was able to expand the use of their live chat service which now offers a confidential chatroom 10-6pm, seven days a week, including bank holidays, for women to connect with a fully trained female support worker.
The money has also allowed the team to expand and waiting times have been cut.
Senior support worker Kat oversees a team of support workers, as well as delivering live chat and other direct services at Women’s Aid.
Speaking to The Mirror, she says: “The end goal for me is to give women enough options and choices that they can make their own decisions.
“Because they’re being so controlled, it’s about that woman taking back that power and control and making decisions for herself.”
The live chat offers instant connection but women can also get in contact by email or via the Survivors Forum.
Kat said: “The live chat has been a safe way for women to be able to get support because maybe when women are stuck at home with their perpetrators, they are not able to make phone calls as easily as they could or go to visit people or get out of the house as much.”
“The chat service is a lot more discreet. Women can chat to a support worker online.
“It adds that extra layer of anonymity. They don’t have to give us any details if they don’t want to, they can just stay anonymous and get some advice.”
Sometimes the support workers receive calls from women in immediate danger but often, they act as the first point of contact for women who are coming to the revelation that something is not right in their relationship.
Kat said: “We have a lot of women coming through to us who are unsure if they are experiencing domestic abuse, just wanting to talk through the dynamics of their relationship.
“We can give that validation and say ‘yes you are experiencing abuse, here is the support you can access’ and we can give that emotional support.
“We can also give practical help as well. A woman might come through to us needing some legal advice around injunctions or child contact and we can signpost her to legal support.
“We can do refuge searches online. If that woman is ready to go and leave, we can help her find some safe accommodation.”
The support workers all undertake extensive training which educates them on immigration policy, the law and speaking to vulnerable people.
The training helps the support workers offer information to people across the UK and occasionally, women in countries including New Zealand, Germany and Greece.
The Covid-19 pandemic has left many women in abusive homes and a survey carried out by Women’s Aid in 2020 found that 67.4% of survivors were already experiencing domestic abuse said that it’s become worse since the start of the pandemic.
Kat said: “We definitely saw an increase in women reaching out. Lockdown doesn’t cause domestic abuse but I think what it did was put women in this situation where they couldn’t get that support.
“They couldn’t go to their workplaces or children couldn’t go to schools – their safe spaces away from the abuse. They were just stuck in these horrendous situations with no let off, it’s that relentless abuse when you’re stuck in the house.”
Kat added that there was a lot of confusion over the lockdown restrictions too. Many women were unsure what support was available, if they were allowed to leave their homes and if an abuser could be removed from the home during lockdown.
“Safety is a priority here” said Kat. “Just because its lockdown, you don’t have to be staying in these abusive situations, there is help available. We can still do refuge searches.”
Media representations, especially in soaps, have sparked conversations and some women use storylines such as the Chantelle and Gray storyline in EastEnders to recognise their own situations of abuse.
Kat said: “It’s widespread and I think domestic abuse is still really unspoken of. It’s still very much an issue that is kept behind closed doors and it thrives in that silence.”
Women Aid’s new campaign features their celebrity patron Mel B and the emotive film highlights violent abuse but also coercive control, stalking, sexual abuse and more.
The campaign highlights the mixed experiences of abuse that many women endure.
Kat said: “In all types of abuse, there’s usually some aspect of coercive control because that is what abuse really comes down to, one person wanting to have control over the other person.
“They’ll use all of these tactics to try and get that control whether that’s through sexual violence or constant little put downs or the threats, just a look or somebody from the opposite of the room holding a knife and looking at you in a certain way.
“We hear all types but that one connecting aspect is the control.”
Coercive control can be harder for those within the relationship to recognise as abuse.
Abusers often blame others for their behaviour and emotionally manipulate survivors into believing their abuse is their fault.
Kat said: “You could be the most perfect woman in the world, jump through all of these different hoops and that perpetrator will still find something to pick on, they’ll still end up moving those goal posts because it’s nothing to do with you.
“It’s not about what you’re saying or what you’re doing, it’s about the fact that that perpetrator is abusive. When you’re in it, it’s so difficult to see and that’s why it is so difficult to leave.
“Things like the constant put downs, the constant mind games, the financial control, there’s all sorts of different dynamics that go on that make it really difficult to spot and really difficult to leave.
“There are perpetrator programmes out there if they want to get support and change their behaviour but a lot of the time, part of the abuse is that perpetrators don’t take responsibility.
“They will just blame. Whether it’s their childhood, alcohol, work stress, mental health issues, coronavirus, whatever it is, they are going to blame that thing or that person for their abusive behaviour.”
As an outsider, it is important to be supportive when someone approaches you with their story. We can all be better support systems.
Kat tells Mirror readers: “Listen to that person, believe them.
“That person is probably being told by the perpetrator ‘no one is going to believe you’ and he could be coming across as the most charming person ever.
“You can signpost to us, let them know they have options if they want them. Emotional support is really important, trying to build up that person’s confidence and self-esteem whereas that perpetrator will be trying to drag them down, you want to try and counteract that voice by bringing them up again.
“Let them know they don’t deserve this, it’s not their fault.”
Kat wants women to continue seeking support and says that Women’s Aid is there to help with any query.
“There’s nothing to be ashamed of. Domestic abuse happens to so many women. It’s not that woman’s fault, there’s nothing that you could be doing or saying that is going to make that perpetrator act any differently.
“They are the abusive ones. They are the ones that should be feeling ashamed.”