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How can we get comfortable talking about men’s experiences of domestic abuse?

One in six men experience domestic abuse, yet it is still a ‘hidden’ problem. Why is this so?

In a lot of circumstances it can be because men are unwilling to make disclosures of domestic abuse. This may be for many reasons, for example possibly for fear of being identified as being ‘less of a man’, or because they do not identify their experiences as abusive.”

Luke Martin is a specialist consultant on male and LGBT domestic abuse. Men’s experience of domestic abuse is still something society knows very little about. Seven years of experience as a Male Independent Domestic Advisor means he has supported thousands of men who have experienced abuse from their female and male partners, family members and adult children.

He hopes that the Get Comfortable talking about campaign will encourage men to come forward and talk about what for many is still a very difficult experience to acknowledge. Luke tells more about the male experience of domestic violence.

The Crime Survey England and Wales highlights that 1 in 6 men will experience violence or abuse from an intimate partner or family member. Women more frequently commit low level violence than the higher levels of abuse perpetrated by men. That means violence that is not likely to cause serious injury, broken bones or risk to life, or risk of a domestic homicide. However, violence and abuse is never acceptable, regardless of risk level.

In 2013 the cross-governmental definition of domestic abuse changed, both reducing the age of those identified as victims to 16, but more importantly introducing the term coercive control. Coercive control is an ongoing psychological attitude that is used to cause fear and alter the behaviour of another. With the introduction of the new definition, the organisation I was working for at the time saw an increase in men reporting that they were experiencing coercive control. The new definition had given them permission to speak out about their experiences of domestic violence and abuse.

However, alongside this came those who were stuck in unhappy relationships where no abuse was taking place. This is where relationships break down, and partners need to sever ties but due to matters like property, finances or children they stay together and this causes bickering, and often quite immature behaviour.

So why do men often seek permission to discuss their experiences of violence and abuse? Why look for society to say it is OK to make a disclosure? It is most frequently because identifying as a person who experiences violence or abuse is to demonstrate weakness, and society states men are strong, protectors, providers and by experiencing abuse are demonstrating weakness. Domestic violence and abuse services will highlight that experiencing abuse never makes someone less of a man, nobody chooses to fall victim to this.

Although men are less likely to experience high levels of abuse, whether in severity or frequency, this is not to say that it does not happen. Far fewer men are killed by a partner or ex-partner than women. One man every three weeks is killed by a current or ex-partner, whilst two women are killed a week by a current or previous partner. But this does highlight that men are still falling victim to domestic homicide.

When we do see men experiencing high levels of abuse we often see weapons being used. A woman, generally, needs an additional level of force to overpower a man, as sheer strength alone will rarely be enough. Women commonly use weapons such as boiling water to cause injury and their violence is often more reactive. Male perpetrators often have a pre-meditative element, when they cause injury they often do it on an area of the body that can be covered by clothing. Women are more likely to cause injury to the head or face.

Unlike women, we see far fewer men accessing refuge spaces. There are currently around 12 male refuges in the UK. These are accessed by helplines such as the Men’s Advice Line. As a lot of men experiencing violence and abuse are in employment, accessing refuge isn’t feasible as they are sporadically located across the country and working full time results in high cost for places. Men are more likely to present to the local authority as homeless or privately rent.

A further point is that very few heterosexual men make disclosures of sexual assault. There are many aspects to why this may be. Firstly, men are taught by society that all sexual contact should be welcomed, and the more sex they have the more of a ‘man’ they are. What we must also consider is that men are less likely to be coerced into performing unwanted sexual acts. When working with men we are more likely to see them denigrated on the size of their genitals, that they can’t make their partner climax, does not last long enough or can’t maintain an erection.

I have also seen an increasing number of reports of men reporting experiencing violence and abuse from adult children. This is seen in correlation to women experiencing abuse from adult children too. More commonly there are issues around substance use or mental health which also plays a role in the abuse. The problem in these cases is that the bond between an adult and their child is usually far stronger than between an intimate pair. Parents often take more responsibility for their children’s behaviour, blaming their own bad parenting, separation at a young age or for letting their child build such strong dependency. In my experience parents are far less likely to see their child, of any age, and I’ve worked on cases with 50 year old adult children, on the street, without food or without support than they are a partner or ex-partner. Parents are far less likely to press charges or take civil action against their children.

Although men’s experiences may differ to that of women, it does not make them any less valid. We are seeing an increase in men reporting domestic abuse, as well as an increase in service provision for men.

The campaign, ‘Get comfortable talking about it’, wants everyone in the city to feel comfortable talking about domestic violence and abuse. People can ask any questions they have about domestic violence and abuse – either by email, social media, or by posting a question in our branded letterboxes – look for them in Council Community Hubs. So we can help.

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Acting to build lasting change for families and victims

Having worked in Criminal Justice for the last 21 years as a police officer, a probation officer and more recently for Children’s’ Services, domestic violence and abuse has been a constant factor when working with offenders, victims and families.

Jude Roberts holding a get comfortable cushion

Domestic violence and abuse can have far reaching consequences for individuals, families and communities in Leeds. This is why I am passionate about looking at how we can improve responses to domestic violence in Leeds. It is significant that domestic violence is a key priority for Leeds City Council and has been identified as one of the council’s seven breakthrough projects. The intention behind the breakthrough projects is to collectively look at new ways to tackle issues that will have the biggest impact on the people of Leeds. Last year there were over 15,000 domestic violence incidents reported in Leeds. The domestic violence breakthrough project provides an opportunity to build on the significant work that has taken place in the city on this issue over a number of years, and identify ways to do things differently for lasting change.

A key element of the domestic violence breakthrough project is the development of a Front Door Safeguarding Hub. My role at the hub is operational delivery manager.

The Front Door Safeguarding Hub is a new initiative designed to improve the safety of and support people experiencing domestic violence and abuse. It aims to provide a faster, more co-ordinated and consistent response to domestic violence cases. It brings together key partners from a range of organisations such as the police, children’s social work services, health, drug and alcohol services, housing, Leeds domestic violence services, probation, adult social care, West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service, Leeds anti- social behaviour team, Youth Offending Service, education and Families First.

This growing partnership is, in my view, key to addressing domestic violence and abuse. Sharing information across this partnership leads to a better understanding of risk and need. Putting actions in place that can really make a difference for people experiencing domestic violence, allows for more co-ordinated and appropriate support. Identifying a lead practitioner to work with families so that the right person at the right time has a conversation with a family is the start to build lasting change for families and victims. This partnership also allows for a different way of working with people who are violent in relationships. I believe that people can change, and engaging men in particular around their use of violence with women, provides an opportunity to try and break the cycle of offending. This approach is important in order to preventing men moving onto further abusive relationships.

The Front Door Safeguarding Hub has been born out of existing good practice in the city and learning from others. It is a true partnership project, with colleagues from a range of agencies and organisations involved in shaping and building the arrangement. It is by no means the finished article and we are constantly looking at ways to improve, and I would therefore welcome any ideas you may have……

Jude Roberts - Operational Delivery Manager at Front Door Safeguarding Hub

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Caring Dads - learning to feel comfortable talking about it

Getting comfortable talking about it also means giving a voice to those who have been the abuser in their relationships, encouraging them to question their responses and to discuss what went on.

Dave Evans holding a get comfortable cushion

"What I’ve talked about here, I would normally never talk about’… ‘I try and think before I speak. I respect myself and others as well and I am less judgmental. I am trying constantly to be a good role model for my children”

are just some of the comments from men who have taken part in the Caring Dads Project: a group work programme for fathers who have been abusive which is run by Dave Evans, Leeds Domestic Violence (DV) Team and he tells us more about this ground breaking and important group.

In Leeds we use an assessment framework, designed to help a man understand and tackle his abusive behaviours.

It involves -

Identifying and questioning the beliefs he holds, the ‘shoulds’ he applies to thinking, about how he and his partner behave and how he reacts when he doesn’t get his own way.

Exploring the situations where he loses his temper and learning different ways of thinking, managing his feelings. Much of how we react, when under pressure is due to the ways we’ve learnt to cope in our early years. For many men I’ve worked with, they’ve learnt to manage their distress in ways that vary from burying their emotions to acting out emotionally and demanding support from others.

Learning relationship skills about listening, compromising. Many men have grown up in families where differences of opinion are managed by shouting and often violence, so that’s what they’ve learnt.

This framework helps us break down, understand, what needs to be tackled. Helping a man accept that he needs to change and help him work consistently on those changes is the more difficult task. The relationship we form with him is crucial. If a man feels judged, put down, he is likely to withdraw. Deep down most men will carry real shame from their experiences. This can lead to feelings of helplessness. One man we worked with told me ‘you know you’re doing wrong but you deny it .. deep down you don’t think you can change..’ As workers we all need to consider how we can listen to the man in front of us and how we can give him the best chance of feeling comfortable enough to genuinely reflect on his behaviour. This can be hard for workers when the man has inflicted real pain on others but it’s the only way if we want him to feel better about himself and we want those around him to feel safer.

Given the right support, I believe most men who behave abusively, can change. In our work at the DV team we encourage staff from all organisations to explore ways to motivate the men to change, instil hope.

As part of this work we’ve introduced Caring Dads, a 17 session group work programme for fathers who have been abusive within their relationships. The men’s partners/ex-partners are supported by ‘Women’s Health Matters’ staff as it’s crucial to offer support to both parties. For the men’s group we’ve set up a system whereby workers from different organisations work together and share their skills. It’s been rewarding being a part of this project, working with others and witnessing some genuine progress. We work hard on creating trust within the group so the man can genuinely empathise with his (ex) partner and children, consider how he was parented, how he manages his feelings. He is encouraged then to determine, and practise safe, respectful behaviours and in the process work on rebuilding the trust with others. My most rewarding moments have been walking buoyantly away from a good group session thinking ‘that’s why I come to work’ while my work helps me also become a better partner and father.

Here is some comment from the men’s partners – “A lot has improved at home. He is able to control his anger, talks instead of shouting. He is gentle with the kids and they don’t avoid him anymore. He has started to appreciate me and the kids.” ....“I am so pleased with the way our relationship is improving. He is more responsible, shares household chores and helps me to manage kids. He has absolutely stopped shouting in front of the kids”.

We all have expectations within relationships; abusive men impose their expectations as rules which they enforce through intimidation and fear. We all behave differently publicly from how we present within our relationships, behind our four walls.

While men can be victims within same sex and heterosexual relationships the majority of victims are women - women who feel controlled, who live in fear of ‘him’ losing his temper. We’re still a society where men still tend to expect to get their own way, take the lead and can feel upset if they don’t get it.

It’s up to all of us to ease men who, deep down are concerned about their behaviours, to a place where they can ‘get comfortable talking about it’

Dave feels that his past experiences have influenced his current work. "I grew up in South Wales, my teens and twenties dominated by sport and women. It was a world of striving hard to win, taking what you wanted while managing your own insecurities. Looking back on how I behaved in my early relationships I did things I deeply regret and have hurt women emotionally and physically. I worked hard on myself and had the support of family and friends while I did this. Perhaps that is why I feel passionately about this area of work and have sought to understand it.

I joined the Probation Service in the early 80’s and held a number of roles until I joined the DV Team here. Domestic Violence, training and development have been my main interests over the years. I’ve worked with many men individually and in a group context on domestic violence. I think trust, respect need to be part of any meaningful professional or personal relationship and I consider the quality of the relationship’ to be at the heart of any potential change. This is something I hold dear."

The campaign, ‘Get comfortable talking about it’, wants everyone in the city to feel comfortable talking about domestic violence and abuse. People can ask any questions they have about domestic violence and abuse – either by email, social media, or by posting a question in our branded letterboxes – look for them in Council Community Hubs. It really is everybody’s business, doing nothing is not an option.

Dave Evans - Caring Dads

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Domestic violence and abuse is everyone's business - isn't it time we got comfortable talking about it?

As you read this, Leeds City Council is taking part in the 16 Days of Action Against Domestic Violence a national campaign aimed at businesses to support their employees and users affected by violence, and to help them take a stand against it. Most people, particularly those of us working as part of a front-line service, are aware of the problem of domestic violence. Taking the form of an incident or pattern of incidents revolving around coercive, controlling, degrading or violent behaviour, domestic abuse is an uncomfortably common problem. According to a 2013/14 Crime Survey of England and Wales, 1 in 4 women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime, with 8% experiencing abuse in any given year. A On average, 2 women are killed every week in England and Wales by a current or former partner.

Sam holding a get comfortable cushion

Male violence towards women they know is still the most widely recognised form of domestic abuse, with the perpetrator often using sexual violence to control and abuse their partner. This can happen in and outside of the family home in heterosexual and familial relationships. This violence is deeply rooted in gendered social inequalities between men and women, happening to women because they are women, and because it reflects wider patterns of behaviour in our culture.

However, it is important that we remember that domestic violence is not restricted to heterosexual relationships. The term does not describe the gender identity or sexual orientation of those involved. Domestic and sexual violence are experienced by LGB&T* individuals as well, and it is vital that our services recognise the needs of our community.

The 16 Days of Action Campaign recognises exactly that. The prevalence of domestic violence in LGBT relationships matches the heterosexual and cisgender experience: (25-33% of all couples). Given this is the case, why do we not talk about it? This is one of the questions that Women’s Aid set out to answer in their report on LGBT Domestic Violence, which assess the incident rate of abuse in Leeds, and makes suggestions for what services can be doing to provide better for the LGB&T populations.

Cultural myths and excuses can be a barrier that stops LGB&T* individuals from being able to recognise abuse in their relationships, or to access appropriate support. Members of our community may also be worried about not being believed or taken seriously, or even experiencing homophobia, biphobia or transphobia when attempting to access support or report abuse to the police. The belief that because the relationships involve two people of the same sex or gender presentation, it cannot be “real” violence or abuse, still exists. It is a belief that misunderstands the nature of domestic violence. Perpetrators of domestic abuse are not always, and sometimes not ever, physically violent. Abusive relationships can manifest as emotionally manipulative, verbally abusive, financially controlling and coercive without ever physically engaging the other person. In the LGBT community, this can come out as threats to ‘out’ the other person without their consent (therefore exposing them to violence or rejection from family, friends or the rest of society), to reveal HIV/AIDS status where that applies or to normalise abuse based on the limited education and support young people receive around non-straight relationships.

Many of the participants in the Women’s Aid study confess that they were either told by partners or assumed that their experience was “just how things are.” Not having been in an LGBT relationship before, or not feeling that they could seek support from outside of the relationship because of their sexuality prevented them from accessing the support they needed.

After my girlfriend and I broke up, she started texting me, sometimes up to 20 times a day without response, asking for another chance, to meet up with me, to come to my house. She refused to accept the relationship was over, and became very angry at me when I didn’t reply, accusing me of being “a cold bitch”. She rang me late at night, and attempted to get in touch with me through mutual friends and my housemates. On two occasions, I was sure that she was following me home from university. This behaviour went on for almost 4 weeks before she finally stopped, during which time I had to seek counselling to deal with the stress and resurgent feelings from other abusive relationships. I nearly went to the police, terrified that she might not stop, and that the behaviour might escalate, but I never did: I was scared they wouldn’t believe me.”
(Submitted by a person wishing to remain anonymous)

It is because of experiences like these that we broaden our conversation around domestic violence and abuse.

For more information, you can also visit:

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Leeds Domestic Violence team are comfortable talking about it, are you?

Most people’s lives have been touched by domestic violence and abuse in some way and many of us know someone who has been affected by it. This issue cuts across all ethnic groups, all ages and all social backgrounds. It’s no surprise to hear then that the number of domestic violence incidents reported to the police in Leeds last year was around 14,000. How can we tackle such a big issue in such a diverse city and where our population is changing all the time? Michelle De Souza, Manager of Leeds City Council’s Domestic Violence Team tells us more:

Michelle De Souza holding a get comfortable cushion

My work involves managing the council’s Domestic Violence Team. One way we attempt to tackle domestic violence and abuse is by helping services and communities to be aware of it and respond appropriately to victims, children and those wanting to address their abusive behaviour. One of our tasks is to deliver a training programme to ensure that the workforce in Leeds understands what domestic violence is and knows where help is available. Our role is to enable people to identify signs of domestic violence, recognise the risk factors and to respond effectively. Often, we are asked whether domestic violence is more common or worse in some communities, particularly black and minority communities. This is a challenging question and should be given a considered response.

It’s true that domestic violence may be reported more within some communities than others and it can be more visible in some neighbourhoods; for example, where people are living closely to each-other however there’s not necessarily more of it within any one community and it’s not particularly worse within any one group. There are many unhelpful myths about black and minority ethnic (BME) communities and domestic violence, often perpetuating stereotypes that suggest BME communities are more violent and prefer to ‘sort things out among themselves’ rather than using services. At the same time, we have learned from our consultation with black and minority ethnic (BME) service users that, for some victims, the difficulties of domestic abuse are made worse by issues such as honour based violence and forced marriage. Abuse from extended family members as well as cultural and religious expectations may keep victims trapped in unsafe, abusive relationships for many years. Living in a relatively small community can also mean that support is withheld for fear of reprisals. In addition to these difficulties, barriers to seeking assistance such as judgemental attitudes from staff, a lack of interpreting services or inaccessible locations can lead to some victims being excluded from services and their needs disregarded or misunderstood.

Whether we are family members, community representatives or service providers, we should keep an open mind to the idea that potentially anyone could be affected by domestic violence and abuse help whilst remembering that some victims face additional issues and extra hurdles when pursuing help. We may need to ask more questions, be prepared to meet in unlikely or unfamiliar surroundings and be willing for our offers of help to be turned down many times.

Help and support needs to be accessible to everyone and our aim is to ensure this happens. This doesn’t mean that everyone requires the same response. It’s more apt that everyone gets a different response; a response which considers their particular needs. We should not be afraid to ask people what they find helpful or express our lack of knowledge about their culture. These conversations help the engagement process and build the beginnings of professional relationships.

Michelle De Souza - Manager of the Leeds City Council Domestic Violence Team

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Ellen’s story

This open and heartfelt story was written in response to the campaign to encourage others to get comfortable talking about it. Her name has been changed to protect her identity

a woman comforting another woman

I can still picture the grey soul less waiting room at Sheffield City Council when I declared myself homeless aged 20 after another violent episode. She had returned home drunk again with that telling look on her face. I had taken the usual precautions of removing anything breakable, hiding ornaments and crockery…I missed the jar of beetroot, I would regret that later.

When she came in she asked who I had been talking to, this was pre-mobile phone and internet days so I had little way of communicating with anyone other than the house phone. This is how it always started; the accusations of cheating, who had I had in the house, what had I been doing in her absence. The level of violence is something to this day I struggle to put in to black and white. I was sitting on the floor comforting my young dog; this only ignited her jealousy more. She then ripped a door from its hinges and threw it towards me. My puppy jumped in front of the hurtling object to protect me from the door, leaving a scar that broke my heart every day for the next 13 years.

The relationship began in a whirlwind, something I see so often in the lesbian community, even today. I moved in with her after a couple of months and at first the flashes of jealousy were flattering, at least I knew she loved me; this must be what it was like, naïve I know. Over the next couple of years it spiralled out of control. On occasions, I wasn’t allowed to leave the house even to attend lectures. It became easier to go along with it than to face the consequences. The scariest thing looking back, was this was almost seen as normal by some of the people we called friends. One lesbian laughingly told me it was the butch way and I should learn not to wind her up.

This is one of the key reasons I embrace the ‘get comfortable talking about it’ campaign whole heartedly as I know how hard it is to talk about domestic violence and to feel it is being taken seriously. In that cold waiting room I was told I did not qualify for help as it wasn’t considered domestic violence as we were in a same sex relationship, and there was no way they would allow me to keep the dog…(he had limped along with me all the way to the offices). So I did the only thing I could do and went back. The beetroot stain took weeks to clean from the kitchen wall and I’m not a fan even to this day.

When I say those words today I am amazed that I thought it was my only option. I was deeply ashamed. No one ever expects to end up in that situation. I could have talked to my parents, I didn’t. They wouldn’t have understood how hard her childhood had been, how her depression was to blame, how afterwards she was always so sorry. I can talk about it now and there have been tears as they feel that they should or could have done more. I was in a different city and I became really good at hiding things. I often wonder if my reluctance to use make up is I don’t have to hide anymore.

I was lucky to keep a couple of my friends, it’s amazing how many you lose because people don’t know how to handle that conversation, they know it’s happening but I was always there with her excuses ready. People have spoken to me over the years and apologised for not acting, not saving me, some of those were even unlucky enough to end up in a relationship with her when I finally did leave. I am grateful for the ones who supported me no matter what.

I stayed far longer than I should have, I moved back to Leeds but she came too, after all she couldn’t live without me, I had heard that thousands of time. I used to lay awake at night wondering if I had to wait until she died before I could finally be free. This sounds ridiculous now but a lot of years have passed and thankfully the happy times in my life have far outweighed the “dark days” as my dad refers to them as.

I’d also love to say I was strong enough to leave of my own accord but I have a bank to thank! I arrived home one day and she had opened a letter that said I had been pre- approved for a mortgage, of course anger ensued. I was back in Leeds now though, my city. I called my brother and I went out and bought my first house in a matter of days. The dog and I were finally free.

Domestic violence happens behind every type of door, in all areas to different types of people and certainly behind rainbow doors. Talking and getting support is the key to getting help and getting out of that situation. Love is not isolating you from your friends and family nor is it controlling everything you do or making accusations. Thank you to the people who have proved this to me every day since.

The emotional scars take slightly longer to heal but they do. I am a prolific communicator, I hate to feel isolated. I talk about me then like I was a different person, perhaps that’s just easier for me. There are still flashes of that girl, I still trust too easily; I still believe that magic letters will appear through the door when you need them and if you don’t respond to a message I will worry about what I could have done to upset you. I’m still not a big fan of pickled beetroot but 15 years on I can talk and sometimes even laugh about it. There is no shame in surviving, so please do talk about it.

I love my life now, I have a lovely home, I am passionate about the work I do. I also volunteer for some of the homeless charities who work to help people open up and get help. I am also surrounded by a wonderful group of family and friends who make sure I never stop believing that things do get better.

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You never have to feel alone

If you are affected by domestic violence and abuse, it’s likely that you have lots of questions about what will happen if you talk to someone or report it. You might even feel you don’t have a choice but to stay with an abusive partner, because you don’t know where to go or what to do if you leave. You might worry about what will happen if you report it.

Nik Peasgood holding a get comfortable cushion

The ‘Get comfortable talking about it’ campaign is welcomed by our Independent Domestic Violence Advocates at Leeds Domestic Violence Service – because unless we do get comfortable talking about it, people won’t know the answers to their questions or understand the amount of support available to them if they are affected by domestic violence and abuse.

Leeds Domestic Violence Service is an all-round support service, offering immediate help to high risk victims, and then supporting them with legal advice and support at court. We also help those affected by domestic violence and abuse to find housing and resettle.

We are often asked what the police can do in terms of domestic violence and abuse, and what support is available.

Reporting it to the police can be the first positive step to end domestic violence and abuse. If you do report it, with your consent the police will refer you to our service so that you can get independent information and advice, and your own personal advisor or advocate.

If the abuser is arrested, Leeds Domestic Violence Service will be there for you every step of the way. We can let you know what happens with an arrest, whether the person is charged, when they will appear in court, and any other developments. We will offer to go with you, so you never have to feel alone.

Many people who we support are parents, who are worried about what will happen to their children and whether they have to allow their partner access to them. If you have children, there is lots of local support available – from our service and other local agencies. The safety of the children is more important than the rights of the parent to see them, and local agencies will work to protect the children from risk.

The Leeds Domestic Violence Service can advise about family court orders that regulate who sees the child and when, and who the child lives with. We can also help look at whether you could get legal aid to help you through court.

I hope that by writing this, more people experiencing domestic violence and abuse will realise that there is so much help available to them, and that this will make them feel able and safe to talk to someone and get the help they need. Please remember – you never have to feel alone.

For more information and advice, please call us on the 24 hour helpline number – 0113 246 0401.

Nik Peasgood - Director and IDVA Service Manager of HALT

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Communication is vital to make changes happen

I am a Lead Practitioner with Forward Leeds, based at Kirkgate, and have been attending the monthly MARAC (multi agency risk assessment conference) meeting for South Leeds and Holbeck for about two years.

Eleanor Fenwick holding a get comfortable cushion

I knew relatively little about the help available for those affected by domestic violence and abuse in Leeds until then, but have been amazed at the extensive wrap around support on offer. As a team we have referred many people to MARAC, where they’ve been able to get help with things like housing and ongoing support from a domestic violence worker, to make positive changes to their circumstances.

One case which stuck with me was a young woman who was subject to physical and psychological violence, but did not feel she could speak out. When the perpetrator was recalled to prison (for an unrelated offence) MARAC was able to step in and offer her all of the means necessary to change her circumstances. She has been rehoused, obtained a restraining order, and she has been offered ongoing support.

Because MARAC is a multi-disciplinary meeting focused primarily on the needs of the victim, it is possible to share crucial information from a range of services, which will always be kept confidential from the perpetrator. Without such multi-disciplinary systems and processes as MARAC, we could find ourselves working in isolation without the resources to make the changes happen. Information sharing and communication is vital.

I think the ‘Get comfortable talking about it’ campaign is great. It is a subtle way of encouraging everyone to take notice of domestic violence and abuse, and open up discussions – from the street level up to the professional level. The campaign has been publicised within our team and the posters displayed throughout the service, to raise awareness amongst staff and service users. We’ll be spreading the word and opening up conversations with the hundreds of people we come across daily.

Eleanor Fenwick - Lead Practitioner, Forward Leeds

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We had over 4,000 conversations about domestic violence last year

Since 2011 Leeds Domestic Violence Service (LDVS) has been providing support to people experiencing domestic violence and abuse. Between us, the three organisations that provide the service (Leeds Women’s Aid, Halt and Behind Closed Doors) have been talking about it for over 70 years

Kate Bratt-Farrar holding a get comfortable cushion

We are comfortable talking about it, sometimes too comfortable – it’s what we do every day.

We have learned lots of things: Firstly, when someone tells you they are experiencing abuse, it SHOULD make you feel uncomfortable. That’s because it’s a horrible thing they are going through, and when someone tells you it’s happening to them, it becomes a real thing, not the experience of someone on TV or in a book.

Secondly, you have been chosen, someone trusts you enough to tell you about that horrible thing, the thing that causes them to live in fear and shame.

So, what do you do?

Gloss over it? Change the subject? It’s so incredible it can’t be true!

Please don’t do any of those things, Please believe what you are being told, have that difficult conversation and tell that person you believe them and are there for them.

Last year we took over 4,000 calls to the Leeds Domestic Violence Helpline. The women who call (it is mostly women) tell us that being believed is so important. Their abusers often convince them that no one will listen if they talk about the abuse, that people will think they are crazy, that they won’t be able to cope, even that their children will be taken away.

If someone tells you about their abuse, you don’t have to have all the answers. Tell them to give us a call, or even call us yourself. The Leeds helpline is open 24 hours a day 365 days a year 0113 2460401.

We can have that more detailed conversation, provide support, give information about options and offer longer term support.

LDVS provide outreach support on a one-to-one basis, Independent Domestic Violence Advisers to support clients through the criminal justice process, Resettlement Support to women coming out of refuges, drop-ins at health settings across the city and groups for women to share their experiences. Between us, the three organisations can also offer or find emergency accommodation, provide peer support and healthy relationship programmes.

There is lots of support out there. Getting it to survivors of domestic violence and abuse when they need it relies on all of us being comfortable talking about it.

Kate Bratt-Farrar – Chief Executive, Leeds Women’s Aid

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Think, talk and ask questions about domestic violence and abuse

Domestic violence and abuse affects the lives of too many people living in Leeds. It affects women and men, it affects children. It affects people of all different backgrounds regardless of where people live, whether they are rich or poor, whether they are Leeds born and bred or have come to our city later in their lives. It affects people who are disabled; it affects people regardless of their sexuality; it affects people young and old. You perhaps know someone who is affected or maybe you yourself are.

Bridget Emery holding a get comfortable cushion

​​Leeds City Council and our partners such as probation, the police, health colleagues, the business sector and the sport, faith and the third sectors across the city are determined to make a difference to how we tackle domestic violence and abuse. We are determined to change for the better the lives of children who witness and experience violence in the home and who in many cases carry that trauma into their adult lives. We are determined to provide the right services and the right help for people to change their lives whether they are the victims of domestic violence and abuse or are the perpetrators of the abuse. We have developed plans to achieve a step change in the city.

However, we know that we cannot change how this city responds and tackles domestic violence and abuse without your help and without everyone getting involved. We also know that domestic violence and abuse is still massively under-reported, and that many people feel uncomfortable talking about the issue. It remains a taboo. We also believe that best ideas about what more to do to tackle this devastating crime might well be your ideas as you know your community and your city best.

Today we are launching our campaign, ‘Get comfortable talking about it’. Hopefully you will spot our orange cushions and sofas out and about in the city. You might also want to have a look at our website: What we really want you to do is think, talk and ask questions about domestic violence and abuse. It would be brilliant if over the next 16 days you could let us know what questions you have about this issue and even better if you could let us know what you think the city could do to address domestic violence and abuse more effectively. You can email us at , tweet @LCC_News, or post a question in the special letterboxes at our community hubs.

As Chair of the Domestic Violence and Abuse Partnership Board, I promise you that we will consider all ideas and respond to your questions. Please join us in making a difference. Please join us in changing our city for the better. Let’s make Leeds the best and safest city in the UK.

Bridget Emery – Chair, Leeds Domestic Violence Partnership Board

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If you need advice and help because you are experiencing domestic violence, please contact the Leeds Domestic Violence Service 24 hour helpline on 0113 246 0401, or visit, and if you are in immediate danger please call 999.