News, Impact and stories International Women's Day 2021 Shelly's Interview for International Women's Day! What made you want to work supporting victims of DA? I think I was about 20 years old, and someone said to me “you’re a really good listener, you need to make this your career” and I thought about it for a long time. I just wasn’t really sure how I would get into that type of work, especially with young children at home. It wasn’t until my friend became a DAIT officer within the police (a specialised police officer supporting victims of abuse) that I really got to understand domestic abuse and the types of challenges that victims and police were facing and just how prevalent abuse was. It was shocking to think that so many people were trapped and suffering abuse in their own homes. There was no way for me to get into that side of it at the time so I looked at other areas I could try and gain some experience in helping others (it’s quite hard to get into this kind of work). I found a volunteering job for St Helena’s Hospice in their bereavement team. It was a brave step because I didn’t have a clue what I was doing and there was no pay for it – I kept thinking am I doing the right thing, I’ve not got 3 children and 2 jobs!! I’ve got too much on my plate!! But I’m so glad I went for it because they gave me lots of training and lots of courses in regards to loss and grief and these help me in my work today. I went out into people’s homes and became their bereavement pal; the actual role was called a ‘bereavement visitor’. We walked alongside them and supported them in their time of need. That was where I started and it was then that I realised that many women and men were facing lots of different issues alongside suffering their bereavement, many relationship difficulties and now I am a qualified Domestic Abuse Practitioner I can understand the battles even more so. I was finding that when I was visiting people for a loss they had suffered, there was also a whole load of other problems that was going on within their family dynamics, lots of needs that had never been un-picked. That was what made me want to further my knowledge and find a way to really help other people with a whole range of issues, including mental health struggles as I had faced these types of problems in the past too and it is a very lonely place to find yourself. Have you always wanted to do this and if not, what did you want to do as you grew up? From a young age I thought I wanted to be a teacher and I done some teaching assistant work experience and thought “this isn’t for me”. But straight away I found that I had a close connection with the vulnerable children. So, although I didn’t fancy teaching, I did definitely recognise that I wanted to help other people, and here I am today supporting families as a whole and I am very proud of this. What personal qualities do you think you need to do this job? You need quite a lot… you need patience, empathy and you need to have a real interest in what you are trying to support that person with and you need to have guts!! A lot of guts!! You must be really interested in the end goal and I think you must accept that the end goal could be a long way off for that person. It could be that you are supporting a victim of domestic abuse right from the start of their journey but it might be that they aren’t going to get to where they need to be for several months/years, helping them get there at their own speed and accepting there is no ‘quick fix’ for survivors of abuse is key. They will do a lot of the work and really want to leave, but for whatever reason (something might be going on in their life at that time) which means they can’t make the break that they need just yet. But hopefully those earlier areas of support mean that you’ve put the thoughts into their mind, and you’ve given them that little bit of empowerment to go away and do some work for themselves. Then hopefully they will come back as they need support later down the line. You also need strength and courage, you need to be able to be that person’s voice for them because when you are going through such a difficult situation and when you’re trapped in such an abusive relationship you can’t be yourself, you need an advocate really someone to back you up and literally carry some of that pain. You have got to be able to take on other people’s problems which is no mean feat! To walk alongside that client, to help them fight those battles but also come that need for balance. You have to get that balance of professional boundaries just right, of knowing where to help but also where to stop because it's about supporting them, not taking over their lives! The last thing a victim of domestic abuse needs is another person trying to control them. It must be quite frustrating, in a way, when you have been supporting a client and perhaps they go back to the perpetrator or they get into another abusive relationship. That must be quite hard to deal with… Yes, it really is, obviously you want the best for them and because of the experience we have with working with a huge number of women, we generally know that the outlook is bleak if you stay within a violent relationship. A lot of women will think that they can do some work with him/try to fix him, they hold onto that hope. We’re not there to tell them otherwise so we just have to give them the information they need and let them make their own conclusions. It is really frustrating especially when you know that people are putting themselves back into dangerous situations. We all know some of those situations can be potentially life threating and it’s horrible. All we can do is educate people, advise them and let them know that it’s not just our services that can support there is a whole load of services out there that we can signpost to. You must have hope that they will make the decisions that are right for them and their family. Hope is what keeps me going! Who would you say your role model is? I have recently watched a few webinars with some really important female figures, so I think without a doubt the women that have been campaigning for all these years for women’s rights and justice – they are definitely my role models. I just aspire to the ones at the top who have the power to get our voices heard to help us make the changes. There are still lots of changes that need to be made. All of my colleagues and my management team – everybody at Next Chapter – because we are each playing a part in the bigger picture of supporting families. What is the most inspiring thing you have seen with someone you have been supporting? I think all women are inspiring when they ask for support, anybody that makes a phone call to us – already on that first call I feel proud of them because they’ve made a step to recognise that something isn’t right and to try and get help. I think that is a big thing and I am proud of everybody from the first point. If I think about the different sort of situations I’ve dealt with over the past year I think for me it’s so inspirational when someone comes into our service and perhaps their Mum, Dad or Sister might have said “ring Next Chapter, they might be able to help you”. They ring you and they might not even be aware that they are victims of domestic abuse, they’ll start to talk to you and they’ll say “oh my Mum said I should give you a ring” and they’ll tell you their story and I think it’s really inspirational when you get 3 months down the line and this woman has empowered herself, she’s taken on board what we have said and accepted support from the different organisations we have referred her to. She has learnt for herself that what she has been trapped in is unhealthy and it made her unhappy and unsafe. It’s just so inspirational when you see a woman that came into service not even knowing for sure if she is a victim and who at the end of the journey with us, she might have left the person, or fled into refuge in a completely different area or even moved her children’s schools to get them to safety– these are huge barriers for women when trying to leave abusive relationships there are so many big things to contend with! And I’m so proud when a woman can go to such great lengths to protect her family. The most inspirational women are the ones that had come in blind and at the end of the journey are free from abuse – we are lucky enough to see that! It takes a long time for some women, but we do see those results. I feel so proud of them, especially the ones who have had to pick up their entire life and move to a different area with their children and leave their home and everything behind. It must be terrible to not only be going through abuse but to also give up your whole life. It’s amazing what women are capable of! Absolute warriors! For the clients that you say come in and don’t necessarily know they are a victim of domestic abuse, do you think there is a lightbulb moment that switches for them to realise they are a victim? Yes, because a lot of them have been living it secretly, so what goes on behind closed doors stays behind closed doors. The only validation that they have had is their own conscience. So, they are living through a scenario at home, they are thinking it through perhaps at night-time or when the perpetrator is at work and they are thinking “is this right, should I be treated like this?”. They might be embarrassed to tell their Mum or Dad, or family members and it might be that the family have found out by mistake. Perhaps they have overheard a row, the neighbours have called the police, or they have been left with an injury that they have had to explain their way out of. I think the lightbulb moment often comes when they get that validation from us, they tell us what’s happened, and we tell them that is so wrong and that they should never been treated like that. Abuse is never acceptable. End of. Victims of domestic abuse may have been trapped in their own pattern of thought entirely, the abuse may have left them isolated & on their own so the only person they can rely on for the answers is themselves or the perpetrator. It’s not until they hear it from a professional that they hear “yes that isn’t right, you shouldn’t have to put up with this. It is dangerous for you and your children” – a lot of the time when we point out that this is affecting their children and they are victims too they will find another layer of courage. What would you say to your best friend if they were experiencing DA? I would say listen to your gut. It’s really hard to help a best friend because you are quite emotionally involved in their life normally anyway. I think if you’re a professional in this area, it’s really hard because you want to treat them in the way you would treat your clients but I do think it is quite different. I would try and encourage them to educate themselves in domestic abuse because I think that gives you power. Listen to your gut would be my number one thing to say to anybody – if you’ve got a feeling that something isn’t right in your relationship then you can almost guarantee that your gut instinct is right and you need to talk to someone about it. Be that a professional, friends or family – whoever that is. I would encourage them to call Next Chapter.