Surviving domestic abuse

As most of the Bailiwick returned to normality after lockdown, some members of our community found themselves in difficult circumstances, causing one charity to see a 177% spike in demand for their services. The Guernsey Press met some of the team from domestic abuse charity Safer and talked to some of the survivors it has helped...

WITH about one in three women and one in six men experiencing domestic abuse in their lifetime, it is clear there is a need for the work of Safer. The local charity supports anyone in the Bailiwick who wants help and is suffering from any form of domestic abuse and offers both adult and children’s services.

Safety is the priority and the team works on creating an individual plan with each client to support them and their children in becoming safer in the way best suited to their needs. This is done through the Independent Domestic Violence Advisor Service, its outreach service and the specialised Kids Independent Domestic Violence Advisor Service.

The charity also carries out safety work as part of the island’s perpetrator programme, known as the Sarnia Programme, provides a free ‘moving on’ counselling service, a 24-hour telephone helpline and, perhaps the area that it is most known for, providing refuge accommodation for people who need to escape to a place of safety.

Statistics

  • One in three women, and around one in six men, will experience domestic abuse

  • One in five children and young people have experienced domestic abuse

  • On average, victims experience 50 incidents of abuse before getting effective help

What is domestic abuse?

Domestic abuse is any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening, degrading and violent behaviour, including sexual violence by a partner or ex-partner or a family member. It can include, but is not limited to:

  • Coercive control – a pattern of intimidation, degradation, isolation and control which may often have the threat of physical or sexual violence underpinning it

  • Psychological and or emotional abuse

  • Physical abuse

  • Sexual abuse

  • Economic abuse

  • Harassment and stalking

  • Online or digital abuse.

Who can be in an abusive relationship?

Anyone can be abusive and anyone can be a victim of abuse. It happens regardless of gender, age, sexual orientation, race or economic background. While abusive people often blame their partner to justify their behaviour, abuse has nothing to do with the person it is directed at, and it is never a result of anything to do with the relationship or a particular situation.

Abuse is a personal choice and a strategic behaviour used to create the abusive person’s desired power. Regardless of the circumstances of the relationship or the pasts of either partner, no one ever deserves to be abused.

The person being abusive is the only one who can end the abuse. No one else can prevent someone from being abusive if that’s how they choose to behave. Abuse is never the victim’s fault.

Adam’s story

Adam came to Guernsey a few years ago with his wife, who is a local woman. He is a hard-working, proud man with strong family values who became a victim of coercive controlling behaviour.

It started with his wife questioning his every movement, calling him to find out where he was, even if he was only minutes late from work.

It moved on to monitoring his telephone, social media and eventually taking his phone away from him. Social gatherings became difficult, with his wife constantly criticising him and accusing him of being with other women.

Adam’s only option was to leave the house until his wife calmed down. This meant hours wondering around Town with no money and he even spent some nights sleeping rough.

Adam spent many months trying to improve his marital situation – he strongly believes in the sanctity of marriage so leaving didn’t seem to be an option.

Things eventually became physical, with his wife taking to abusing him in their own home and on one occasion in front of family members, who called the police. The police made a referral to the Independent Domestic Violence Advisor Service because they were concerned for his safety.

Katie from Safer made contact with Adam and arranged for a safe place for them to meet, which was facilitated by Adam’s employer.

With any new client, building trust is essential for them to feel they can open up about the full extent of their situation and this takes time. Katie spent a lot of time with Adam working on a safety plan suitable for his specific situation. Often victims of abuse need a lot of assistance as they prepare to leave, including help with finding accommodation, setting up bank accounts and dealing with the local authorities such as social security, income tax and housing and Border Agency if needed. This was certainly the case with Adam.

When meeting the pair over coffee, it is clear that Adam is hugely grateful to Katie for her help in what was such a difficult time. He is very emotional when he talks about his experience and calls Katie his ‘guardian angel’ and says he cannot thank her enough for everything she has done.

Katie describes Adam as very different now to the person she first met.

‘Gradually, as we worked together, I began to see Adam’s sense of humour appear, his confidence grew. He made the decision that, despite his strong belief in marriage, leaving was the best thing for him. It is lovely to catch up with him and hear how well he is doing.’

Julia’s story

The moment you meet Julia, you are struck by her big smile and warm personality. While English is not her first language, she is fluent and comes across as a bright, articulate individual.

Julia suffered for years from her husband’s psychological and physical abuse. She was with him for 20 years and during that time he destroyed her self-confidence, isolated her from her family and verbally abused her in front of her children.

As Julia talks about her marriage, there is great sadness and she is often very tearful as she thinks back to some of her experiences.

She is very open about the first time he hit her and that she thought of leaving him then, which was very early on in their marriage, but believed it was a one-off and that she should try to make it work. Importantly, she was also miles away from home and her husband was the only person she knew here.

Looking back, she says there was one red flag that she can only now identify.

‘We always had to move around, he couldn’t keep a job, he was always falling out with people and blaming it on them. Now I realise he just wanted to control everything and everyone around him and that didn’t work out in other areas of his life.’

Once her children were born, Julia channelled all her energy into raising them. She had to endure constant criticism of her parenting skills and being degraded in front of the children and it is clear that this had, and still has, a profound impact on her life.

She self-referred to Safer after she and her husband separated. She first had an appointment with one of the outreach team who, after meeting with her, referred her case to Katie.

The two worked together using visual resources to help explain and understand the insidious growth in control that takes place in an abusive relationship, which will have resulted in Julia being made to feel responsible and guilty for the abuse that was directed at her.

Because each case is tailored to the individual, timeframes vary and Katie worked with Julia for about two years.

‘It is really good to see how well she is doing now,’ said Katie.

Kids Independent Domestic Advisor Service

Safer has seen an increase in the number of children being referred to Kidva. The team works with children who have been either the victim themselves or have witnessed abuse. The ages vary considerably, so ways of communicating with them have to be tailored and the charity has different ways of engaging with the children.

Rachel’s story

Rachel was 14 years old when she was referred to Kidva. She had witnessed a lot of domestic violence against her mother and it was clear she also needed support.

‘As soon as I met Rosie, the trust was instant. We looked at how to cope, not only for me but for my sibling. I always felt safe with her. She never pressured me, she guided me through the sessions and we would end up talking about what was going on and then discuss ways to deal with the situation,’ said Rachel.

‘When I was older, I got into a violent relationship and Rosie has worked with me around healthy relationships, both in terms of friendships, family and relationships, which has been really good.’

It is clear that Rachel has had a lot to cope with in her young life and some challenges are ongoing. ‘I still have separation anxiety from my mum, and have had a few things lately to deal with, but now I know not to let things build up and if I need help I ask for it. Rosie has always been very supportive, not just of me but for my whole family. She really looked after us.’

Rosie said: ‘Rachel is such a lovely person – she has had a huge amount to cope with, not only witnessing her mum’s domestic abuse, but then to be the victim of it with her partner. It is so important that not only children who are victims of domestic abuse, but all young people, boys and girls, who are starting to form their own relationships, are taught about healthy relationships. We are hoping to get into schools to do work around this. If we can give them the tools to recognise what is appropriate behaviour and what is not, we could break this cycle.’

Moving-on counselling

This is a free service that is offered to those survivors whose cases have closed but they and their key worker feel they could benefit from some counselling.

The service is run by qualified counsellors who generally meet the clients for six to eight one-hour sessions, dealing with the associated after-effects from repeated trauma and grief and building on their own strengths and self-esteem.

As with all the services that Safer offers, the counselling is confidential and client-led.

‘It is about removing those final obstacles for these individuals,’ explained Jenny, a qualified counsellor. ‘It is very rewarding work, both for us and our clients, and we have some really good outcomes.’

Outreach service

The outreach team are the individuals to whom you will speak initially when you phone the 721999 number. You do not need to be referred – members of the public can phone the number and discuss confidentially any concerns that they may have around domestic abuse, either in their own home environment or concerns over a friend. The team will take an initial call then either arrange to meet in person or continue contact by phone. Members are also available to show clients around the refuge if this is an option they are considering.

Safety plans are put in place and a risk assessment will be done to see whether you will stay within this service or be referred to an Idva.

The outreach team and Idva/Kidva teams work closely together and regular meetings are held to ensure that cases are in the team best suited to the client. Areas that an Idva would support, such as social security, housing, immigration and advocacy support, are all replicated in this team.

‘We do have a lot of clients who are with the outreach team for some time as we are their first contact with the service in most cases. We also look after the residents of the refuge, so it is another busy service within the Safer team.’

Rocco the therapy dog. (29639579)

Meet Rocco

Rocco is a three-year-old long-haired tri chihuahua who has worked as a therapy dog for Safer. He has seen lots of children and young people who have experienced domestic abuse and has been permitted to attend court when children/young people are giving their evidence.

He is a regular visitor to the refuge, bringing a little bit of sunshine to all he meets. He may be small, but he has a huge impact.

Rocco undergoes regular assessment and is currently on the list for his level two reassessment, with his mum (one of the Kidvas), with Paws for Support.

Rocco’s owner, Rosie, told us: ‘The children get such a huge amount of comfort from Rocco. They are often afraid, living in difficult circumstances, having to talk about difficult topics and stroking Rocco really helps calm them down. He loves coming to work with me, meeting new people and, of course, all the cuddles.’

  • Visit safer.gg for more information, or call 721999 or email enquiries@safer.gg to speak to a member of the Safer team. In an emergency, always call 999.

  • All names have been changed to protect the identity of the survivors and Safer team.

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