I think I’m trapped with them
Remember, you are not alone. Women’s Aid is here for you and ready to support you, and there are lots of things you can do to help support yourself through difficult days.
These tips offer some useful information, tools and exercises to let you take a moment for yourself and give you some time to relax, help you process what you are experiencing and think about further support you may need. Every woman will have different experiences of abuse, so some of these tools may be useful and others may not be useful at all. You may find it helpful to pick a couple of exercises that feel natural for you and come back to them to practice, it may take a few goes for you to feel the benefit of them.
- If you are able to, take time and space for yourself each day: This could be something as small as getting up a few minutes earlier so that you have time that is completely yours at the start of the day.
- Treat yourself gently: Despite what you may have been led to believe, you are worthy of being loved. You deserve to feel happy and safe. Always be kind to yourself.
- Take regular exercise: If you can take time out of your day, regular exercise will give you time for yourself and help you build confidence. Try something you enjoy like swimming, dancing, walking or climbing.
- Learn a new skill or do something creative: Creative skills will give your mind a break and bring some calm into your day. You could try yoga, meditation, drawing or writing.
- Practice relaxation exercises: Simple breathing exercises like breathing in fully for five seconds, holding briefly and breathing out gently for five seconds will help you release tension from your body.
If these don’t feel useful to you, you could try some of the advice from the following resources:
- Women’s Aid Survivors’ Forum, a safe, anonymous space for women (over 18) who have been affected by domestic abuse to share their experiences and support one another.
- Women’s Aid Deserve To Be Heard campaign. Deserve To Be Heard highlights the experiences of survivors of domestic abuse and the effects abuse can have on mental health. Reading about the experiences of others can help you to feel less alone.
- The Women and Girls Network’s Self-Help Resource Guide. This guide includes information on identifying ways to cope that work for you, creating support and self-care tools and tips.
- Chayn’s resources. Chayn’s resources have been created by survivors and experts and are available in multiple languages and formats. This includes Bloom, a private, supportive space with courses written and checked by survivors, allies, mental health support workers and therapists from around the world.
As a mum living in an abusive relationship, you’ve probably been trying to shield your children from abuse as much as possible. A high proportion of children living with domestic abuse are themselves being abused by the same abuser. But research has shown that talking to children about what’s happening can help them to feel less worried, confused and angry. Talking to your children about abuse is not an easy task and if you have any concerns or worries, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us. We are alongside you every step of the way.
If your child, or a child you know, tells you that they have been abused your immediate response is very important.
- Listen carefully and let your child tell you what happened in their own time.
- Reassure your child that they are not to blame for what happened (or is happening).
- Let your child know they are very brave to tell you about it.
- Show your child that you are concerned for them.
- Try to stay calm and not let your child see your shock.
- Do talk to your children – and really listen to them. Most children will appreciate an opportunity to acknowledge that abuse has been happening and talk to you about how they are feeling. In the early stages of starting a conversation, they might find it easier to draw their feelings rather than name them in words. Remember, your children will naturally trust you. Try not to break that trust by directly lying to them.
- Try to be honest about the situation in an age-appropriate manner. Take care not to frighten your children but reassure them that what has happened is not their fault and that they are not responsible for adult behaviour.
- Explain to them that abuse is wrong and that it does not solve problems. It can help your children to form better relationships in future if you model the boundaries for them now.
- Keep the conversation going. Encourage your children to talk about their feelings and wishes for the future through drawing, talking and writing. Your child’s teacher or social worker may be able to help you think about some appropriate activities.
- Don’t rush things. Sometimes children need to wait until they feel safe and are no longer in the violent environment before they start to talk about their feelings.
- Encourage your children to talk about their wishes and feelings. You could suggest drawing or writing about what is happening and how you both feel about it. Sometimes children will wait until they feel safe and are no longer in the violent environment before they start to talk about their feelings.
- Tell them where to get more information. Services like The Mix or Barnardos can support younger children. You could suggest that your children look at the Women’s Aid website for children and young people, Love Respect is Women’s Aid’s dedicated website for young people ages 14+.
- Teach them how to get emergency help. Show them how to dial 999 but make sure they are aware that they aren’t responsible for protecting you if you are being attacked. You should also teach them the Silent Solution, where a caller can press 55 to tell the 999 operator that they are in an emergency and can’t speak out loud. They can also contact 999 in BSL for free by visiting the website or downloading the app.
- Praise them. Help to boost their self-esteem by regularly giving them lots of praise, attention and affection.
- Ask for help. Show your children that asking for help is a good thing and try to model this by reaching out yourself so they can see that there is no shame in seeking support.
No. Only the abuser is responsible for the abuse.
You are never to blame for someone else’s abuse. Seeking help is a big step and a positive step to take as a parent.
As someone who has experienced abuse, it is important that you are supported so that you can help your children, ensuring they are safe and have the right support to start their recovery.
We recognise that this is a difficult question to ask and applaud you for taking the first steps to consider the answers. If you’ve been struggling in an unhealthy relationship, you’ve probably been doing all you can to shield your children from the effects of it – and perhaps hoping they haven’t noticed what’s been going on.
Unfortunately, we know that in most families where domestic abuse is happening, children will be fully aware of it – often hearing and/or seeing a great deal. They are dependent on the adults around them to keep them safe and if they don’t feel secure in their own homes, this can have negative physical and emotional effects which can continue into adulthood.
The impact of abuse on children has been recognised in recent legislation, with the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 recognising children affected by domestic abuse as victims in their own rights. This includes children who see, hear or experience the effects of the abuse and are related to the perpetrator or victim.
At Women’s Aid, we know it can be hard to protect your children, and we are here to support you without blame or shame. You are not responsible for the abuse.
We’re here to support you by providing you with as much information as possible about the ways your children might be impacted. The better informed you are, the better you will be able to find ways to support them.
We collaborate with experts to learn effective ways of helping children process trauma and begin recovery, offering emotional and practical support through our specialist services.
- They may be in the same room and get caught in the middle of an incident, sometimes in an effort to make the violence stop.
- They may be in another room but still be able to hear the abuse or see physical injuries following an incident of violence.
- They may be forced to take part in abusing the victim.
- Age, race, disability, sex, culture, stages of development and individual personality can all have an effect on a child’s responses.
- Most children will be affected in some way by tension when witnessing arguments, distressing behaviour or assaults – even if they do not always show this.
- Children may feel that they are to blame, or – like you – they may feel angry, guilty, insecure, alone, frightened, powerless, or confused. They may have feelings of love and hate, both towards the abuser and the non-abusing parent.
Children often feel guilty, believing the abuse is somehow their fault and thinking they should be able to stop it in some way. These feelings can impact school attendance and achievement because some children become frightened of what might happen if they leave the house and so attempt to stay at home to protect their mother. Anxiety can also lead to disturbed sleep patterns and a lack of concentration which can affect schoolwork.
Abuse may also interfere with children’s social relationships because they feel unable to invite their friends round (or may be prevented from doing so by the abuser) out of shame, fear or concern about what they might see.
You might recognise some behaviours your children are demonstrating from this checklist below:
- They may become anxious or depressed
- They may have difficulty sleeping
- They may have nightmares or flashbacks
- They may complain of physical symptoms such as tummy aches
- They may start to wet their bed
- They may have temper tantrums
- They may behave as though they are much younger than they are
- They may have problems at school or may start truanting
- They may become aggressive
- They may internalise their distress and withdraw from other people
- They may have a lowered sense of self-worth
- Older children may start to use alcohol or drugs
- They may begin to self-harm by taking overdoses or cutting themselves
- They may develop an eating disorder
When experiencing abuse themselves, children may become aggressive or abusive towards you or others in the family. This can be temporary and it’s usually a sign they are struggling to process abuse.
They may find it useful to get support:
The Mix is a support service for young people, providing support for under 25s for anything from mental health to homelessness.
YoungMinds is a charity fighting for children and young people’s mental health. They also run the Young Mind’s Parent helpline on 0808 802 5544.You can also contact them via their webchat, Typetalk or Text Direct. Multilingual interpreters are available.
However, if the aggression is ongoing and support is not helping, you may need to do something to protect yourself and other children in the family – particularly if your child is a teenager or older. If your child is abusive towards you or your family, you should not feel guilty about taking steps to protect yourself and your family. A severely aggressive or abusive child can have a negative effect on the other children in the family and needs expert help themselves.
You may decide to contact social services. If your child is over 16, you have the right to evict them from your home and it is social services’ responsibility to carry out a needs assessment under the Children Act 1989.
Family Rights Group may also be able to help. They advise parents, grandparents, relatives and friends about their rights and options when social workers or courts make decisions about their children’s welfare. They offer advice, advocacy and campaigns for families whose children are involved with or require social services care. They also provide helpful advice sheets on all aspects of dealing with social services. They are available on 0808 801 0366.
Family Lives provide support to parents under stress, can make local referrals, and have a forum for parents. They are contactable on 0808 800 2222 or on their live chat available.
If your child is at risk of further abuse (for example, if you are still living with the abuser, or if your children have regular contact with them) then there are steps you can take to protect them from further harm.
You can seek information and support from Women’s Aid by speaking to a support worker through our Live Chat service.
You may want to talk to your local domestic abuse service, who may have specialist support your children can access. If social services are involved, your local domestic abuse service may be able to give you some support or advocacy with the social worker. You could also call the freephone 24-hour National Domestic Abuse Helpline (run by Refuge) on 0808 2000 247 to help you decide what you should do next. The Helpline has access to multilingual interpreters and can also be accessed via the BT Type Talk Service. The BSL helpline service is open from 10am to 6pm, Monday to Friday.
Remember: Social workers will not take your children away if they can work with you to make sure they are safe.
The aims of children’s social services is to safeguard and promote the welfare of children in need in their area. They aim to promote the upbringing of children by their families by providing a range and level of services appropriate to those children’s needs. The services may be provided to the particular child in need or any member of the family if it is with a view to safeguarding and promoting the child’s welfare.
Legal processes and going to court can be daunting but there are rules that need to be followed in domestic abuse cases involving children.
Before going to court, you might want to seek legal advice.
Rights of Women is an organisation which provides free legal advice on domestic violence and abuse; finances and property; relationship breakdown and arrangements for children. They have various helplines where you can get free advice on topics such as family law and criminal law. Some of the helplines have access to multilingual interpreters and you can also get in touch using the NGT Lite Text Relay app. They also have lots of useful information on their website, including:
- Family Court proceedings: where can I get advice and support?
- Children and the law: the family court process
- Children and the law: domestic abuse and Practice Direction 12J The PD12J is guidance that the family courts should be following when it comes to domestic abuse cases. You could make your solicitor or legal advisor aware of this if they aren’t already.
Coram Children’s Legal Centre’s Child Law Advice Service also provides legal advice and information on child and family issues. They have a helpline which offers advice on 0300 330 5480. If English isn’t your first language, they also have access to multilingual interpreters via Language Line.
Prohibited Steps Orders
A Prohibited Steps Order is a court order which prohibits the other parent from doing a certain action or exercising some of their parental rights. For example, you might want to look into obtaining a Prohibited Steps Order if your perpetrator has made threats to remove your child from your care or take them out of the country against your will.
You may want to seek some legal advice for guidance around Prohibited Steps Orders. Your local domestic abuse service may have legal advice or be able to help you access this. You could also reach out to DV Assist for support.
Moving abroad and the Hague Convention
You may have moved abroad with your abusive partner and children, and are now hoping to return to the UK or you may have moved to the UK with your partner and children and are considering returning to your home country. This is a complex area of law and we would strongly urge you to seek legal advice if possible.
Whether you can move abroad will depend on where your child is ‘habitually resident’. If your partner wants your child to stay where they are habitually resident and has parental responsibility, you may need to apply through court for permission to allow the child to leave the country. If your partner gives permission for you to return to the UK/your home country with your child, we would advise you to get this in writing officially through a solicitor.
If you decide to leave with your child without your partner’s permission, you may be required to return your child to their habitually resident country, and you risk getting taken to court for child abduction. This is due to laws under the Hague Convention; a treaty designed to secure the return of any children who have been removed from the country without the other parent’s permission. Child Law Advice have further useful information about child abduction and the Hague Convention.
If it happens that you are unable to leave with your child and are ‘stuck’ in the UK or another country, there is still support you can access. Global Arrk are a charity who support parents who have moved abroad and cannot return with their children. They have information, support and may know of International Lawyers they can recommend.
We know talking to someone else about your personal life can be hard and thinking about your future can be overwhelming, but getting in touch with us can be your first and most important step.
When you speak with a Women’s Aid support worker, she will ask you about your experiences and how she can help. Support workers are here to support you, explain your options and work with you to help you feel safer. Yours and your children’s safety are the most important part of any decisions and, as the survivor, you are the expert of your own experiences.
When you reach out for help, we promise we will:
- Never judge you or what you say
- Always have a fully trained female support worker available
- Give you space to explore your options
- Support you to make safe choices for you and your children
- Keep everything you tell us confidential
The Women’s Aid Live Chat can get busy so there may be a wait time. It’s important you keep the chat box open and stay online, a support worker will chat with you as soon as possible. You can also contact our fully trained support workers through our email service, we will respond to your email within 5 working days.
Women’s Aid is not an emergency service.