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A link in the chain: The role of friends and family in tackling domestic abuse

27 August 2015

A link in the chain report coverA link in the chain examines the role of informal networks (friends, family, colleagues and neighbours) in minimising domestic abuse.

Despite the harm domestic abuse causes, victims struggle to acknowledge and disclose what’s happening to them and seek support. They face complex personal and practical barriers to admitting abuse and accessing help, as their lives are often intricately intertwined, in terms of emotions, networks and resources, with that of the perpetrator.

As individuals struggle to proactively seek help, many victims remain invisible to services, never accessing effective support. Few victims engage with police or specialist services, with abusive relationships escalating, going unrecognised and undiscussed, sometimes for years. Victims can become increasingly isolated, making the gap to trained specialist services (helplines, refuges, police or health professionals) yawn large.

Friends and family can be a key link in the chain to leaving abuse behind, as these are the individuals most likely to be aware of abuse early on. Informal networks can offer help by encouraging victims to reach out to specialist services or the police (acting as a conduit), or by offering practical and emotional aid themselves (supporter), from bolstering self-esteem to providing somewhere to stay.  

However, informal networks face complex barriers to engaging: they may struggle to recognise abuse, and feel ill-equipped to intervene, fearful of causing problems or nervous about intruding.

This report argues that to successfully minimise abuse, policy and practice must consider the social context of abusive relationships, to equip and support friends and family who may be aware of abuse. We consider how social and professional networks can help bridge the gap between victims and specialist support.

This report draws on new primary data to explore:

  1. what barriers prevent victims speaking up about abuse, and how these can be overcome

  2. how we can widen the net of people aware and involved in aiding victims of abuse, whilst ensuring those supporters feel confident and able to engage safely and appropriately

  3. what structures need to be in place to ensure there is emotional and practical specialist support in place following disclosure, both for the victim and supporter.


We conclude by posing three questions for government as part of their prevention agenda.

A link in the chain executive summary [PDF 410 kb]