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Women’s Aid launches national campaign Deserve To Be Heard to highlight impact of domestic abuse on mental health of women and their children

  • Nearly half of women in refuges say they experience poor mental health as a result of abuse – charity believes many more too fearful to speak out.
  • Charity urges government to commit to sufficient funding for both refuge spaces and community domestic abuse services, to ensure this provision includes vital mental health support.
  • Women’s Aid estimate that at least £409 million is needed next year to run the specialist domestic abuse services across England – there is a current shortfall of over £200 million.

Women’s Aid today, Tuesday 14th September, launch Deserve To Be Heard, a powerful new campaign, to highlight the devastating impact of domestic abuse on the mental health of women and their children.  

Farah Nazeer, chief executive of Women’s Aid will launch the national campaign in parliament with support from the Domestic Abuse Commissioner, Nicole Jacobs, to highlight women’s needs and the urgency of ensuring that funding for specialist domestic abuse services includes the costs of mental health support. They will deliver a letter to PM Boris Johnson on behalf of Women’s Aid patron and domestic abuse survivor, Melanie Brown, with a heartfelt plea for him to listen, and respond effectively, to the needs of survivors. 

New statistics, released today by Women’s Aid, reveal that 45.6% of women in refuge services reported feeling depressed or having suicidal thoughts as a direct result of the domestic abuse they had experienced. However, we know from our work with survivors that this is likely to be the tip of the iceberg because of the stigma and fear around disclosing poor mental health. 

Survivors have shared that mental health services are not meeting their needs. Women are often referred to generic services, which have little understanding of the complex and long-lasting impacts of domestic abuse on mental health. Specialist women’s services – including those led ‘by and for’ Black and minoritised women – are uniquely placed to understand the gendered nature of abuse and meet the needs of women facing multiple forms of oppression.  

However, Women’s Aid research – The Domestic Abuse Report 2021: the Annual Audit – revealed that fewer than 1 in 5 refuges (15.2%) have trained mental health support workers, despite the clear need for this support. Despite the introduction of the statutory funding allocated in the Domestic Abuse Act, domestic abuse services are still chronically underfunded. Women’s Aid estimate that least £409 million is needed next year to run the specialist domestic abuse services across England, with a current shortfall of over £200 million.   

Farah Nazeer, Chief Executive of Women’s Aid, said:  

“Domestic abuse and poor mental health are unequivocally linked but the current funding for specialist support services remains woefully inadequate.

“Our data shows almost half of survivors have experienced depression or had suicidal thoughts, however it is likely that there are many more women who don’t tell anyone how they are feeling, because of the stigma around disclosing poor mental health, victim-blaming, the fear of consequences in the family courts, communication barriers, and the lack of specialist support available.

“We know that the traumatic experiences of survivors are often dismissed, belittled and disbelieved, which has a serious and severe impact on their mental health and obstructs their access to support and recovery.

“The Deserve To Be Heard campaign will be urging government to listen to the voices of survivors, including the most marginalised women and children whose voices are often not heard or prioritised. As well as calling for urgently needed funding, the Health and Care Bill is an opportunity for survivors’ needs to be made central to upcoming health reforms, whilst the Women’s Health Strategy provides the means for government to recognise domestic abuse as a fundamental cause of women’s mental health issues.

“The government has a duty to recognise and address the clear need for funding of effective mental health support for survivors of domestic abuse. All women and children who have survived abuse must have access to the support that will enable them to recover and rebuild their lives.”

Melanie Brown, survivor and Patron of Women’s Aid, said:   

“Domestic abuse doesn’t end when you leave an abusive partner – the effects on your mental health are deep and long-lasting. I had PTSD and had to get support to deal with it. It is not easy to speak about your mental health when you know you may be judged, and I understand why not all women feel able to speak out.

“So many women don’t tell anyone how they are really feeling and I want to tell other women that reaching out for help isn’t a sign of weakness, it will help you rebuild your life. But when women reach out, they need to know that help is there, which is why we are asking the government to properly fund domestic abuse services in the community, to make sure that both women and children can get the help that they need.

“Listen to women who are living with trauma – their voices deserve to be heard, they are not to blame for the abuse they have experienced and should be given mental health support to recover.”

Nicole Jacobs, Domestic Abuse Commissioner, said:  

“I hear from victims every day about the devastating impact that domestic abuse has on their mental health. If the trauma is not addressed, it is almost impossible for survivors and their children to rebuild their lives which can have devastating lasting effects.  

“The Government has an opportunity to ensure sufficient funds are made available in the Spending Review so domestic abuse victims can access specialist mental health support in addition to other vital community-based services and I urge ministers to seize this moment.  

“Around 70% of those people experiencing domestic abuse who seek help get support through services based in the community such as counselling for mental health issues, specialist support workers and helplines who help victims and their children to get and stay safe.  

“These services save lives as well as money in the long-term and I hope the Government will agree to put a legal responsibility on local authorities to fund community-based services in the forthcoming Victims Bill. Survivors deserve this support so they can have a fresh start.” 

Notes to editors
  1. An estimated 1.6 million women in England and Wales have experienced domestic abuse in the year ending March 2020 with young women aged 16-24 years continuing to be the age group at most risk (ONS 2020).
  2. Domestic abuse is an incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive, threatening, degrading and violent behaviour, including sexual violence, in the majority of cases by a partner or ex-partner, but also by a family member or carer. It is very common. In the vast majority ofcases it is experienced by women and is perpetrated by men
  3. Women are more likely than men to experience multiple incidents of abuse, different types of domestic abuse (intimate partner violence, sexual assault and stalking) and in particular sexual violence. Any woman can experience domestic abuse regardless of race, ethnic or religious group, sexuality, class, or disability, but some women who experience other forms of oppression and discrimination may face further barriers to disclosing abuse and finding help.
  4. Domestic abuse exists as part of violence against women and girls; which also includes different forms of family violence such as forced marriage, female genital mutilation and so called “honour crimes” that are perpetrated primarily by family members, often with multiple perpetrators.
  5. On average the police in England and Wales receive over 100 calls relating to domestic abuse every hour.
  6. Data on number of women having reported feeling depressed or having suicidal thoughts are from On Track: The Women’s Aid case management and outcomes monitoring database. On Track is used by over 85 local service providers throughout England. Services contribute to a national dataset by recording information on women’s experiences of abuse, the support they are offered, and the outcomes achieved. Data here are from a sub-sample (3,194 refuge service-users) of this national dataset where information about service users was taken from cases closed during 1st April 2020 – 31st March 2021 and where a detailed abuse profile for service users was available.
  7. Data on number of trained mental health workers in refuges are from Routes To Support: the UK violence against women and girls directory of services and refuge vacancies, run in partnership by Scottish Women’s Aid, Welsh Women’s Aid, Women’s Aid Federation of England and Women’s Aid Federation of Northern Ireland. The directory gives us comprehensive data on all domestic abuse services including, but not limited to, those run by Women’s Aid members.

© 2021 Women's Aid Federation of England – Women’s Aid is a company limited by guarantee registered in England No: 3171880.

Women’s Aid is a registered charity in England No. 1054154

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