Volunteering for a domestic abuse charity

Maggie Lloyd tells us about working with Safer Places.

lifebeltHaving worked as a volunteer with a domestic abuse charity for almost three years, I have heard many terrible tales of the suffering and abuse endured by women. I have discovered that domestic abuse is no respecter of age, social class or professional status. I have also, amongst other things, become aware of the different types of abuse including physical, emotional, sexual, psychological and financial.

I never cease to be amazed by the courage and bravery of the women who are striving to change their domestic situations. The women who access the services of the charity may have found themselves in intolerable positions and in the most extreme cases are in fear of losing their life and may be deeply concerned about the safety of their children.

It is appalling to learn that rape within marriage only became illegal in 1991. It is also shocking to learn that the police receive a complaint about domestic violence every 60 seconds and in Britain a woman is assaulted in her home every 6 seconds.  To find out that a woman is killed by a violent partner or former partner every 3 days and that domestic violence accounts for 25% of all reported violent crime begs the question, “Why isn’t more being done to stop these crimes and bring the perpetrators to account?”*

Courses and Advice

My role is primarily one of tea and coffee maker, but I also provide a listening ear and support the professionals who deliver courses and advice. I work with the Outreach Team, who deliver structured programmes to groups of women to help them to better understand the characteristics of the perpetrators of abuse.

two women on a beach watching sunset

Photo by Bonsairolex

The Freedom Programme is a course based on Pat Craven’s book, Living with the Dominator, and is delivered by trained facilitators. The women taking the course are often shocked to discover that other women have experienced similar patterns of abuse. For some it is a relief to find they are not alone and are with people who can truly understand what they are suffering or are still dealing with. The support the women give each other may sometimes be as valuable as the course itself.

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The Recovery Toolkit is a powerful course that may be taken after the Freedom Programme. This course is for women no longer living with the perpetrator and it helps to empower them as they grow in confidence and positively move forward with their lives.

The Safer Places charity has refuges; drop in sessions for advice, Outreach Teams giving support in the community, and formal and informal group sessions. Clients accessing the services range from aged sixteen to over eighty.

Safer Places

I chatted to the Senior Outreach Practitioner to discover more about her role and the organisation. She told me that the first refuge was set up in 1977 and was run by volunteers. It was known as Women’s Aid but the name was later changed to Safer Places when the charity started to support men affected by domestic abuse.  In Essex there are seven refuges that can accommodate between four and twenty-six women and children who are in full time education. She believes that key to the prevention of domestic abuse is educating young people about healthy relationships in schools. She also pointed out that, in her view, the belief system that domestic abuse only happens to women from poor backgrounds needs challenging. In my time working with the charity I am witness to the fact that this is certainly the case, with women coming from a range of social backgrounds.

She emphasised the importance of acknowledging the different types of domestic abuse and illustrated this by examples of publicised cases. She told me of how an abuser removed all his partner’s left shoes so she didn’t feel able to leave the house. In another case the perpetrator left his thumb print hidden somewhere in the house and required his partner to ensure it was cleaned away. This meant that the woman had to clean for hours every day, when he was out, for fear of the consequences upon his return should he find the print still there.  She told me that the key characteristics of these perpetrators were power and control, and highlighted how it is vital to take women’s concerns seriously and to make rigorous risk assessments, so that lives are not put at risk. She also added that it is an ongoing myth that to be a victim of domestic abuse there has to be physical abuse present.

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Inadequate funding and increased demands are challenging Safer Places to provide the broad range of services they aim to deliver. They endeavour to offer the women and men who seek their help the best possible advice, support and care that they can. The organisation works to allow individuals to live a life free from fear and suffering, which are after all basic human rights. By increasing the public’s awareness of Domestic Abuse and the help that is available it may be hoped that more individuals are able to lead happy, fulfilling lives free from abuse. It is my privilege to be a very small part of the Safer Places team.

For further information please see: www.saferplaces.co.uk. For support and advice or refuge please call 08450 177 668, a 24-hour helpline

If you’re based outside of West Essex, North and West Hampshire or Southend, you can contact Women’s Aid or Refuge for advice and support.

* Statistics are taken from multiple sources cited in Pat Craven’s book, Living with the Dominator.