Communities are at the heart of the right response to domestic abuse
Guest blog by Ruth Mason, Business Development Lead for the Change that Lasts scheme at Women’s Aid
Many of us have had lots of conversations with our friends about their relationships and partners. It’s a delight to share in their joy and excitement, and we all know the importance of a shared moan. But what happens when they tell you things from their personal life that make you worry for them? Or when you are aware of unhealthy levels of jealously and surveillance, and limits to their choices and freedoms before they are? It can be hard to know what to say for the best.
When we built the Change That Lasts approach we asked survivors what would have made the biggest difference to them, and universally they told us that having their friends and families on their side and being supportive when they told them about domestic abuse was crucial.
“Most community spaces are blocked off to me – he manipulates the people in them so that they disbelieve or judge me… I feel isolated because my abuser controls all community spaces and I have access to none.”
We were told over and over again by survivors, that in their friendship groups and community, no-one really talked about domestic abuse. And most often it was because people didn’t know how to, or were frightened of getting it wrong. We know survivors often struggle to disclose what’s happening to them. They face many barriers to admitting abuse and accessing help, and are most likely to confide in people they know and trust. These conversations can be life-saving.
Our Ask Me scheme is designed to get communities talking about domestic abuse, and if and when survivors do share their experiences, to make sure they’re given the right response every time. People in communities across the UK sign up to become Ask Me Ambassadors in their communities and Women’s Aid provides the training and resources to make sure they can support each survivor to be heard.
The scheme focuses not only on knowledge, but also on empathy and confidence. We ask ambassadors to go back into their communities and break the silence about domestic abuse. To be prepared to challenge unhelpful stereotypes and make it safer to ask for help. And we make sure that survivors and ambassadors are never alone, that they understand what support their local domestic abuse services provide, and how best to signpost survivors to get the expert help they need.
And training is only the start…there are now over 1000 Ask Me Ambassadors across England who carry important messages about domestic abuse into their communities.
“Our ambassadors have been brilliant, they are keeping key messages circulating for us around social media and across their local pages, taking us into their places of work and organisations, involved in food and essential distributions, doing online fundraisers and encouraging introductions into services. Our little worker bees! I`m sure they are responsible for the huge rise in reach across our social media platforms right now” Coventry Haven Women’s Aid
The ambassadors we have trained are at the heart of the Women’s Aid response to the Covid crisis. They are sharing details about Women’s Aid national and local services, and creating pathways for survivors to get the support they so desperately need. We are a long term community led approach, that goes beyond posters or codewords and delivers meaningful changes for survivors and communities.
Women’s Aid is committed to training and supporting as many Ask Me Ambassadors as possible, to sign up please register your interest here.