An insight into the unique value that specialist domestic abuse services provide to survivors and society

By Phoebe Nicholson-Pallett, Research and Evaluation Officer

As part of our Annual Audit 2024, Women’s Aid heard from 104 domestic abuse organisations [1], with the aim of better understanding the unique value that specialist services offer to survivors of abuse, including children, as well as to local communities and society. This includes specialist ‘By & For’ services that are run by and for particular groups of marginalised women. We found that specialist domestic abuse services work to continually improve understandings of and responses to domestic abuse across society, keeping communities safe and saving money. They advocate for survivors to receive the holistic and longer-term support they need to recover and live free from control and abuse. Specialist services understand their local communities and seek to improve the safety of their communities through prevention, awareness, and education. All the while these services must continually adapt to meet new challenges and complex societal and often political issues.  

Our research showed that specialist services are doing this in five main ways:


  1. By recognising the diversity of survivors and their experiences

“We have been able to provide services by-and-for the Latin American and BME community in their preferred language which has proven to make a big impact in the service users, 98% of our users in 22/23 state that it made a difference to receive the service in a Latin American and BME women’s organisation.” – Annual Survey, 2023 

“We’re there from beginning to whenever it needs to end, or not end – it’s open. It’s what women and girls told us that they needed – they come in and they tell their story once and we’re with them until they decide, “right. That’s it. I’m off now”. […] We don’t see repeat victimisation like we used to in some of the more rigid services where you come in at one end and you get that bit of support and then off you go.” Interview, 2023. 

  1. By engaging survivors in the community

“Our service has helped so many women and families feel safe, cared for, listened to and supported […] I think not only have we empowered our survivors to move on and up we also helped the wider community by way of some survivors volunteering and some taking up meaningful employment opportunities.” – Annual Survey, 2023. 

  1. By identifying gaps and filling them

“We’ve just got for this year a Safer Ageing Domestic Abuse Advisor because one of the things that was identified in [our] assessment was that older people were suffering from domestic abuse but not reaching out.” – Interview, 2023. 

  1. Ensuring survivors receive the support they are entitled to from statutory services

“We identified an increase in referrals where mental wellbeing was the primary support need and those referrals were experiencing long waiting times for mental health support so were looking for something else to bridge the gap.” – Annual Survey, 2023. 

“Not having a criminal justice system that works for women subject to Domestic Abuse. This increases risk for women and adds pressure to Domestic Abuse services.” – Annual Survey, 2023. 

  1. By sharing knowledge and expertise

“We offer training to professionals, and group work to survivors and their children. We are visible as a reputable and passionate charity in our local community and participate in community events. We offer a counselling service to those recovering, and work in partnership with local agencies to offer excellent service provision that best meets the needs of the community.” – Annual Survey, 2023. 

“We have been influencing the narratives around DA that blame victims and fail to hold perpetrators responsible for abuse. We are now seeing the impact of this […] with many lead agencies talking about the importance of language used and embedding responses that challenge victim blaming.” – Annual Survey, 2023. 

We know that specialist domestic abuse services are doing far more than responding to the immediate or short-term needs of survivors and their children. They are saving lives, restoring hope, working to ensure that survivors receive the representation and responses from statutory services and support they are entitled to.  

It is crucial, therefore that we continue to see, recognise, and amplify the value of these vital services, and enable them to adopt strategies to ensure their long-term survival and sustainability. 

Read the full report here: The Domestic Abuse Report 2024: The Annual Audit 

[1] Running 188 service entries on Routes to Support. Of these 104 organisations, 80 ran refuge services (21 indicated that they did not, and three did not respond to the question) and 76 provided community-based services (15 indicated that they did not, and 13 did not respond to this question).


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