A gate or an ambulance? Thoughts on the Domestic Abuse Plan April 2022

Posted April, 2022

With the usual fanfares, our Government has presented its Domestic Abuse Plan. Sorry if we appear a little cynical but, yet again, we’re presented with headline grabbing statements that may fail to support real, long-lasting change. Will we see another ambulance at the bottom of the cliff or will there be a gate at the top? Let’s dig a little deeper to see what it all means.

Jo Gough our CEO went along to one of the roundtable events with the new Minister for Safeguarding to help shape the Plan and comments here,

“We welcome that domestic abuse has now been recognised as a form of violence against women and girls, and that the plan focuses on preventing as well as responding to domestic abuse. A commitment to addressing structural inequality and sex stereotypes is also welcomed although we are still unclear on how this will be achieved in the long-term given the minimal funding available.”

RISE is cautiously hopeful that the plan recognises that domestic abuse is not solely a criminal justice issue but also one that affects all aspects of life including housing, health, family justice, education, employment and financial stability. After wider campaigning from the women’s sector the plan now rightly sits under the wider Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) Strategy, with a separate plan for men.

It is positive to see investment in highly skilled independent domestic abuse advocates (IDVAs), who provide short-term support for survivors considered at the highest risk. However we do not see an investment in expert frontline services, like RISE, that provide a wider range of long-term, holistic, community-based support for survivors, empowering them to rebuild both their own and their children’s lives. Tying funding to ‘high risk’ cases (and assuming risk is static) will only create an escalation of harm, and prevent a focus on providing help at a point where a crisis can be averted. Ambulance not gate. If we work out how we can get more gates at the top, so we need less ambulances at the bottom.

One way we can build more gates is to work with children. It is good to see the commitment to further rollout of Relationships, Sex & Health Education (RSHE) in schools. We are pleased that the plan has highlighted prevention as a priority, although we note that little value is placed on the important role that specialist, women-centred services like RISE have in ensuring women and girls have the tools they need to identify the warning signs of abuse. Fully funding these services must form a central plank of any effective prevention strategy. At the same time work with boys and young men needs to run alongside this to ensure the next generation of males are intolerant of the societal norms that allow domestic abuse perpetration to remain unchallenged. At RISE we have been working on prevention and recovery for decades and as one of our Children and Family Workers says, we are already doing this and we know that it works. We hear positive outcomes from families that tell us this. She says,

“One mother told me that her son who previously would struggle to leave his room or talk to anyone in his family has helped clean the house, wanted to cook dinner for his family and is talking to them all much more and has made a good friend. Mum stated that all this change started when he started coming onto the Boy’s Group.”

Our Senior Practitioner and Children and Young People’s Therapist feels strongly about the need to improve services for children as she sees the impact every day. She says,

“In the children and families team at RISE we have noticed significant support gaps at schools and in the healthcare and legal system for children and young people who have experienced domestic abuse in Brighton and Hove.

The Domestic Abuse Act 2021 recognises children as victims of domestic violence instead of witnesses however currently the cycle of abuse is not being prevented, instead it is being maintained.”

She wants to know what the strategy is to make a positive change to impact the lives of babies and children harmed by perpetrators of domestic abuse in the long-term.

We agree with the government that more focus is needed on understanding data with a greater focus on both domestic homicides and suicides following domestic abuse. Having been active in this field as specialists for 30+ years RISE has regularly cited examples of cases of suicide that connect to domestic abuse and we know that without good consistent data collection on this the story is only half told. Both suicides of perpetrators and victims of abuse help to complete this picture. We look forward to better evidence collection to tailor and refine the response to perpetration of domestic abuse.

We are not convinced as yet that the government has a clear plan to address the abysmal charging and conviction rates for domestic abuse. A toothless criminal justice system does nothing to rebuild trust in the system, and the police in particular. The plan fails to show how this significant gap will be filled. But we do know this will mean that independent support services like RISE will be needed even more as survivors, who are still not confident to report, will still need expert help.

RISE welcomes increased funding for the National Domestic Abuse Helpline, as well as investment into other specialist Helpline's including crucial services for LGBT+ survivors. However we know that without sustainable, local specialist support these national resources have nowhere to sign-post to. RISE’s Helpline is the only local specialist domestic abuse Helpline and our linked LGBT+ Helpline is also staffed by specialist LGBT+ domestic abuse experts. Both services need to be put on a long-term secure footing to support survivors at the point they are ready to ask for help.

The long-awaited Domestic Abuse Register has been met with some mixed feelings. Whilst this puts offenders of domestic abuse on the same footing as those committing sexual offenses we know the life-changing impacts women face when coming forward to report abuse. Together with shockingly low charging, prosecution and conviction rates any form of register could offer women false reassurances. The onus must not be on women to ‘find out’ whether their partner has a history of abuse, but for the criminal justice response to be robust enough to ensure perpetrators are held to account. There must also be adequate independent support services and advocacy for those women finding out this information so that they can consider their options, whilst staying safe and well.

RISE is looking forward to working with local and national government to see how this plan can be further developed to match need and ensure the strongest response to ending domestic violence and abuse. We are hopeful that, with wider recognition of the longstanding expertise in the specialist sector, gates will be built faster and the ambulances will stay in the depot.


Link to the Plan: Domestic Abuse Plan (publishing.service.gov.uk)

Women’s Aid and Respect Joint Statement here: Joint statement on the Domestic Abuse Plan: Respect and Women’s Aid (womensaid.org.uk)


About RISE

Our vision is: ‘Freedom from Abuse and Violence’

RISE stands for Refuge, Information, Support and Education.

RISE is a feminist, women-led and centred domestic violence and abuse charity that has worked for 27 years to end all forms of violence and abuse against women, their families and those identifying as LGBT+.

RISE offers strength-based, trauma-informed services and is committed to providing accessible, fair, and safe services to survivors of violence and abuse, including women of all ages, children, young people, Trans and Non-binary people, Lesbians and Bisexual women, Gay and Bisexual men, Black and minoritised women, women with religious affiliations or none, Disabled women and other minoritised women.