Safety begins at home.....? Good morning to you all, my name is Nikki, I manage the Domestic Abuse Practitioner Outreach Team and I’m taking over from Joss who has been talking to you about supporting children and young people. So, first things first, a bit about us! Our team is made up of 11 strong, lively, feisty, funny, dedicated, tenacious and knowledgeable warriors who each and every day fight the good fight alongside our clients who are spread across North and Mid Essex. During these very surreal times we have been offering support and reassurance over the phone, email and web chat to our clients who, in most cases, are living in incredibly difficult circumstances with abusers who they are not able to escape from. As a team we really aware that some of our clients, prior to lockdown, may have been on the brink of leaving… and now all plans have been thwarted and all the courage they had worked so hard to conjure up (with the support and dedication of their DAP) may have gone and they have been left deflated and defeated. Unless you have experienced living with a perpetrator it’s probably difficult imagine trying to deal with these very powerful emotions and the impact this is having on their mental wellbeing, we know from experience that these brave survivors may well be starting to sense that a sinister undercurrent is brewing in their home. This unease could (and in all likelihood will) suddenly and for no good reason shift and they will find themselves and their children dealing with an incident that puts their safety in jeopardy. The shift could take many forms - it could be a physical assault, it could be an emotional or verbal tirade, it could be a sexual incident. We know that some of you might be reading this and be in exactly this position right now… or you might be reading this and thinking that you know someone who is experiencing this and wondering what you can do, or even say to them to help. Anyone reading this who has experienced, or is in the midst of an abusive relationship will be only too aware of this cycle and they know that this is how it goes. We have heard from our clients that they are seeing these outbursts getting more intense during lockdown because the controller they are living with is not able to leave the house, the controller themselves are being controlled by an unseen virus and they do not like to be told what to do by anyone or anything… We know from speaking to our clients, that the lockdown has meant that some perpetrators may not be able to feed their addictions, or they may be over feeding their addictions due to boredom or frustration and this in turn will be affecting their mental health. There is so much research about the dangerous cocktail of this ‘toxic trio’ (the combination of domestic abuse, substance misuse and mental health issues) as it leads to emotions being intensified which in turn drives behaviours. Most people will recognise that other stresses may also be affecting the situation for the family, things such as lack of work and therefore money, lack of space and time alone. For our survivors, a term we often use to recognise the huge achievement in surviving after or during unspeakable trauma, they are having to manage the risks they are living with more effectively than ever before. As practitioners, we are scared for the safety of our survivors as we know that their access to help and support has shrunk, these lifelines they rely on to cope are not as easily available and they are having to self-manage. Imagine life where you are desperately trying to maintain the status quo, to be constantly walking on eggshells and working so very hard every minute of every day trying not to ‘poke the bear’. You don’t need to have personally experienced this to imagine just how incredibly draining this must be and how severely this can impact their mental health in the long term. So, what if this is you, or someone you know…? Unfortunately, we don’t have a magic cure or an instant fix that we can share, but there are some practical things that are sensible precautions if you are currently trapped in a home that isn’t safe. We know that if you are a survivor, most likely you will know all these things already and be doing them, but it’s always good to have a quick mental checklist to make sure that in your desperation to keep everything on an even keel, you haven’t missed something vital… or if you are concerned about someone you know, who doesn’t have the opportunity to escape (and it’s safe to be able to share some advice, that comes without any judgement) then these are really good things to be aware of: Know where in your home is a ‘safe sanctuary’ where you could bundle yourself and your children should things turn quickly. This safe space will ideally be lockable and if it offers a form of escape such as a window, all the better. Keep your phone with you at all times and make sure it’s charged and ready to call 999. We know of one of our survivors, who literally survived as a result of a code word that they had arranged with a friend or family member who knew that when that word was said or sent in a text they needed help. Have the Hollie Guard app (https://hollieguard.com/) on your phone so that you can access help quickly with a shake of the phone. If you have the opportunity, pack a secret bag with clothes, medication, documents such as passports and birth certificates – ready to go if necessary. Another great app to have access to if you are in this situation is Bright Sky https://www.hestia.org/brightsky which allows you to access local support across the UK. It also allows survivors to complete their own DASH risk assessment and log all incidents (emotional as well as physical) which helps when reporting to Police. As Joss covered in her blogs previously, it’s a really good idea to teach your children how to call 999 and maybe even how to access the 55 service. (https://fullfact.org/crime/dial-999-silent-call-hang-up/) It’s also good if you are able to make an arrangement with your children so that they know a place to meet if you need to flee and they get separated. Joss’ earlier blog here gives some other advice on helping children living in a house with an abusive parent. And last, but of course, no means least, contact us – remember that warrior team I told you about at the beginning of this blog, well we are all here and waiting to take your call for help or support. You might find that small window of opportunity when you are out at the shop (luckily shops only allow one person from a household in at the moment), or perhaps during a walk to the park (while the kids are kicking a ball maybe…) to be able to reach out to us. Our most important message that we are sharing is that we know that none of this is a survivor’s fault. We are continuing to give that reassurance and we’re really clear that however hard the lockdown may feel, COVID-19 does not excuse the behaviour of their abuser. So, if you get the opportunity, know that we’re here to help pick you up and dust you off and let you know that there is always a way out, we will always be there to help and you are worthy of so much more than this.