What will happen if I tell a professional I am being abused?
Many victims of abuse are worried about what will happen to them if they report the abuse to a professional or reach out for domestic abuse support. This is completely understandable and, unfortunately, as every case is slightly different we can’t tell you exactly what will happen – but we will try to give an overview of what you can expect.
Many professionals receive specialist training to help them understand what domestic abuse is about and how it affects people. They should understand how difficult it is to talk about and that victims often feel extremely embarrassed and scared. They should not judge you or tell you what you must do. They should believe you, give you your options and advise you on the help that is available to you.
If you contact the police in an emergency situation, they should respond quickly.
If they attend an incident and the perpetrator is still there they should speak to you separately from the perpetrator. They should take a statement from you, take photographs of any injuries and give information about specialist services in your area that can support you.
If a crime has occurred, they will refer you to an organisation called Victim Support, who can offer you further advice and assistance.
If the incident goes to court, they will refer you to an organisation called Witness Care, who can support you throughout the court process.
The police and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) can proceed with taking a perpetrator to court, if they have sufficient evidence, even if you would prefer they didn’t.
Most police forces will have a specialist unit which deal solely with domestic abuse cases. Each area will call these officers something slightly different but they are likely to be the ones overseeing your case. If you wish to report to the police, in a non-emergency situation, you can ask to speak to someone from the domestic abuse unit.
If you have to attend court there are procedures called ‘Special Measures’ that you, or your solicitor, can ask the court to put in place. These are procedures which reduce the contact that you have to have with your abuser, like being able to give evidence from behind a screen, having a separate waiting area or using a different entrance.
Many areas now have an SDVC – a Specialist Domestic Violence Court. This will be held at a regular time, usually in a Magistrate Court. Specialist domestic abuse help workers, called IDVAs (Independent Domestic Violence Advisers), should be available at the court to provide additional support. By hearing domestic abuse cases together in a specialist court more specialists can be available and a more consistent response is achieved.
Many people are scared that if Social Services know that they are experiencing domestic abuse that their children will be taken from them; it is understandable as it is extremely common for a perpetrator to have repeatedly told them that they are a bad parent and that they or social services will take their children away.
Social Services’ priority is to make sure that children and vulnerable adults are safe; however they would rather work with a victim of abuse, to keep a family together than separate them. They will only remove children as a last resort.
A referral to Social Services should provide you with additional support to maintain your family, not break it up.
Specialist domestic abuse services will be the area that varies the most depending on where you live. Most domestic abuse services will take a referral from an individual or from another organisation.
Typical services are:
- Refuge – emergency accommodation for women and children (there are a very small number of refuges available for men)
- IDVA – Independent Domestic Violence Advisers (or Advocates), these are specialist workers that support high risk victims of abuse (see section below regarding risk assessment). This is a short term service focussed on reducing risk and providing support through the court
- Outreach – (sometimes called Floating Support). This is longer term support that includes more practical and emotional help and advice. The aim is to help victims to rebuild their lives following abuse
- Freedom Programme / Recovery Toolkit – (or a variation on them). Programmes that help victims of abuse understand what has happened to them, to break the cycle of abusive relationships and build confidence
- Perpetrator Programmes – these are programmes that aim to help perpetrators to change their behaviour
- Children and Young Peoples’ Support Service – this may be one-to-one support or group sessions that work with children and young people that have experienced domestic abuse
Many professionals, especially a specialist domestic abuse support service (other than a telephone helpline) will probably ask you a lot of personal questions about the abuse you have experienced if you contact them.
They understand that that it is extremely difficult to discuss this and if you don’t want to answer any of the questions it is fine to say so.
They are not doing this because they don’t believe you, they are not trying to trip you up or catch you out, they are trying to understand fully what has happened so they can give the best possible information and advice, to explain all of your options and to offer domestic abuse help in the best way they can. There are no right or wrong answers. They should not rush you or force you to talk about anything you do not want to.
Many organisations will complete a risk assessment with you if you contact them. This will involve asking you twenty to thirty very specific, personal questions about the abuse you have experienced, such as “has the perpetrator ever threatened to kill you or someone else and you believed them?” or “has the perpetrator ever used weapons?”.
From this they will work out the best possible support for you. Regardless of the level of risk you are experiencing you should receive quality of support, however where there is higher level of risk you may be referred to an IDVA service (see above) first and where there is very high risk you may also be referred to a MARAC – a Multi Agency Risk Assessment Conference. This is a group of professionals that meet regularly to discuss very high risk cases and put together a plan to try and reduce the risk for the person or family. This can include the police, local council housing departments, representatives from the health service, probation, social services, education, and the IDVAs, but there may be others in your area. You do not need to attend this meeting – the IDVA will be your representative and will feedback to you anything that is agreed.