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Good practice guidelines when supporting a victim of domestic violence and abuse

When supporting a victim of domestic violence and abuse it may help to follow these guidelines.

Support - If a victim tells you about a violent or abusive situation, listen, offer support and help them decide what the next step is.

Remember to be non-judgemental – Victims must not feel that they are being pressurised or judged by people they approach for help even if they have made a previous decision to return to or take back their violent partner

Give victims choice – When presented with options victims should decide for themselves what they do next so that they feel in control of their lives.

Remind victims that the violence and abuse is not their fault. Many who live with violence and abuse blame themselves. Whatever the circumstances violence and abuse cannot be justified. Violent partners will often blame the victim for their actions.

Reassure about children – Many victims do not seek help because of their fear that their children will be taken into care. Violent partners often play on this fear. It is important to stress that this will not happen unless there is indication of serious neglect or abuse.

Equal Opportunities – Domestic violence and abuse affects all victims regardless of age, race, disability and sexuality. It is important that victims are treated as individuals and that assumptions are not made abut what a victim will or will not want because of their age, or because of ethnicity, disability, sexuality and or whether he/she has children

Confidentiality - Victims must know that any information they give will be treated as confidential, including their whereabouts, and will not be passed on without their permission unless there are safeguarding or legal reasons for doing so. (Boundaries of confidentiality should be clearly identified – refer to your own agency and/or local multi-agency guidelines relevant to domestic violence and abuse and child protection

Believe - Victims should not be required to provide proof of violence (e.g. bruising). Physical assault is only one aspect of domestic violence and abuse. Threats of violence and mental cruelty are equally as damaging as physical violence. Victims should be believed on the basis of their own statements and should not be required to provide supporting evidence from witnesses.

Never assume that the violence is not serious. Some victims will minimise their experience or only refer to less serious incidents. Always assume that they are at risk and give information accordingly, so that if an emergency occurs the victim will know what to do.

Reassure the victim that there are many agencies that can help. The important this is that the person feels supported. If you feel that you are not the best agency to provide advice, contact one of the specialist agencies in the Domestic Violence and Abuse Services handout

If possible, talk to the victim somewhere in private. Ensure that anyone who may be the perpetrator cannot overhear the conversation and check with the victim in a discreet way if they would like someone to be with them e.g. a friend

If an interpreter is needed make sure they are clear about their role and about the rules of confidentiality under which they are working. The victim must feel comfortable with who the interpreter is and the way they work and agree to them being present. Always speak directly to the victim and not to the support person.

Have as much information available as possible before the discussion begins. Basic information about options and agencies who can help is useful and will save you from having to keep interrupting the discussion.

DO:

  • Listen carefully
  • Prioritise the victim’s safety and the children’s safety
  • Find out what the victim wants and let them choose what they need from you
  • Find out if the victim would prefer to talk to someone else (e.g. a woman, an Asian woman)
  • Provide information about options and don’t make choices for the victim
  • Tell the victim about services
  • Focus on facts, keep opinions to yourself
  • Believe the victim and reassure them that it is not their fault
  • Be clear about confidentiality
  • Be patient and respectful
  • Ask the victim what is the safest way of contacting them
  • Keep clear records and don’t disclose any information that may put the victim at risk

DON’T:

  • Panic
  • Assume the violence is not serious
  • Talk too much
  • Tell the victim what to do
  • Guess at the information
  • Expect too much
  • Moan about how things are
  • Offer more than you can deliver
  • Act as a mediator or contact point with the perpetrator.