We all deserve to feel safe in our own homes
Story by Tina Cooper – Family Safety Worker
Earlier this year, when Boris Johnson addressed the nation telling us all to ‘stay home to stay safe’, I instantly thought about the hundreds, possibly thousands of women and children for whom home is not a safe place.
I could almost feel the panic they must have been feeling when the realisation of what the Prime Minister had just said was sinking in. Feeling safe in our own home is a fundamental right that we all deserve to have, but for so many women and children across Wales that’s just not the case. When lockdown came into force women and children bore the brunt of that decision effectively becoming trapped with their abuser or grounded to the one place they could easily be found.
Within the first two months of lockdown we saw a 123% increase in the number of referrals coming into Llamau’s Family Safety team compared with the same time last year. This increase was beyond anything we could have anticipated but as a team we knew a rise of some sort was inevitable.
Over the last six months I’ve spoken to so many women struggling with the implications of a country in lockdown. The consequences of closing places like Contact Centres have led to severe repercussions for women. Cancelled child visitations have resulted in perpetrators of abuse turning up unannounced at the family home and using this as a reason to further inflict fear and abuse.
My team and I are also supporting women who feel unsafe inside and outside of their home because they’re being harassed or stalked. A lot of perpetrators have been able to take full advantage of the changes to working patterns, tracking women down a lot easier or stalking them whilst they’re at home on furlough. These behaviours were very serious during the initial stages of lockdown and, worryingly, they’ve continued.
We receive referrals to support women who’ve left their abuser as well as women who’re still living with their abuser.
Regardless of their circumstances, safety planning starts immediately with every woman we speak with. As you can imagine, safety plans look different depending on whether the perpetrator is still in the home or not, but ultimately the goal is always the same – to make sure that woman and her children feel and are as safe as possible.
The pandemic has challenged us when trying to help women and children escape an abusive household – but it’s definitely not stopped us. I’m so proud to be able to say that every woman referred to us who needed help escaping her abuser this year has had the help she’s needed and has escaped to safety.
But the overarching objective of Family Safety is to help a woman and her children to feel as safe as possible within their own home. Part of the safety planning includes making sure window and door alarms are fitted on the house. A lot of women receive threats of arson from their abuser, so we also make sure fire proof letterboxes are fitted on homes and family members’ homes if necessary. The local police and fire departments are made aware of such threats, which although I don’t think completely removes the anxiety for a woman I think it certainly helps her feel safer knowing the right people are aware she may need their assistance.
The lasting trauma of domestic abuse is something many of us will never truly understand because we’ve never been the victim of such horror.
At Llamau we recognise that just because a woman is now physically safe that doesn’t necessarily mean all is well. That’s why we work with a number of independent organisations like Victim Support, the police and Independent Domestic Violence Advocates to help continue the cycle of support for women and children who may need additional support.
I think it would be fair to say that I often witness genuine surprise from women when we begin our journey together. Up until our first conversation they may never have realised there was help available to them and sadly in some cases, no one has ever gone to the lengths we do to make sure she’s safe. For as long as safety is treated as a luxury – instead of a basic human right – we’ll never give up going to those lengths.
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