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Family and friends three times more likely to be aware of domestic abuse than police

27 August 2015

Most people in Britain do not feel equipped to help someone who is suffering from domestic abuse despite almost 1 in 3 people knowing a victim, new findings from Citizens Advice show.

The national charity finds that those with personal experience of domestic abuse are over three times more likely to say that their friends and family were aware of the abuse (48 per cent) than the police (14 per cent), with an even smaller number saying a specialist domestic abuse worker was aware (2 per cent).

Victims may be too afraid or isolated to talk to others about their abuse, which makes the role of other people offering support even more crucial. Citizens Advice finds that more than 1 in 3 people (36 per cent) who have personally experienced abuse didn’t tell anyone else.

A new report by Citizens Advice, A link in the chain, reveals that whilst friends and family can play a key role encouraging victims to seek specialist help, they currently face huge difficulties in helping victims this way. These barriers range from a fear they might make a victim’s situation worse if they spoke about it to someone else, to feeling unequipped to help because they don’t know what to do or who to contact if they think a family member is being abused.

The new findings from a survey of over 2,000 British adults, carried out for Citizens Advice by ComRes, reveal:

  • Around 1 in 5 (19 per cent) feel that not knowing what to do, or who to contact, would discourage them from telling anyone else about suspected abuse.

  • Half (48 per cent) of those who have personally experienced domestic abuse report that their friends and family were aware of what they were going through.

Between July 2014 and June 2015, local Citizens Advice helped over 5,000 victims of domestic abuse. Many victims initially seek help from the charity for related problems like debt or housing, rather than about the abuse itself.

The UK Government announced in the Budget last month it would conduct a review of its approach to domestic abuse. Citizens Advice is suggesting that the role family and friends already play in supporting victims of domestic abuse should be considered in the Government’s review.

Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said:

“A supportive ally can provide a lifeline to someone trapped in an abusive relationship. When someone manipulates their partner’s emotions, controls their finances and even physically assaults them, victims may feel too afraid or defeated to reach out themselves.

“Friends and family are often the only ones who might suspect someone is suffering behind closed doors. The lives of victims are at risk whilst they remain in an abusive relationship, so those aware of domestic abuse need to know what steps to take to provide support. People need the equivalent of a green cross code for helping victims of domestic abuse.

“It is very encouraging that the Government has shown a commitment to tackling domestic abuse in all its forms.  The announced review provides an opportunity for the Government to consider how to stop abuse escalating and make sure abusers are brought to justice. Family and friends can play a vital role in helping victims disclose abuse if they are better equipped to do so.”

The national charity’s new research finds that people often lack confidence in their ability to recognise when someone they know could be experiencing domestic abuse, especially when it does not involve physical violence.

Some of the victims of domestic abuse that the charity helps only feel able to move on from an abusive relationship or go to the police because of the support friends or relatives have offered.

Citizens Advice is working with specialists to develop guidance on how to identify abuse, the steps people can take when someone discloses abuse, and the ways people can get in touch with professional organisations.

To help address the under-reporting of domestic abuse, Citizens Advice is also providing training and support for staff and volunteers at local services to identify instances of domestic abuse with a simple but sensitive approach during face-to-face chats.

If you are experiencing domestic violence or abuse, or you are concerned someone you know might be in an abusive relationship, you can seek help by calling confidential helplines:

  • If the victim is a woman, you can get help from the freephone, twenty-four hour National Domestic Violence Helpline on 0808 2000 247 (run in partnership by Refuge and Women's Aid)

  • If the victim is a man, you can get help from the Men’s Advice Line on 0808 801 0327

  • If the victim is lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, you can get specialised help from Broken Rainbow on 0300 999 5428

  • If you live in Wales you can call the bilingual Live Fear Free national helpline on 0808 80 10 800

You can also come in to seek help around domestic abuse from your local Citizens Advice Bureau and online at www.citizensadvice.org.uk.

Notes to editors

  1. ComRes interviewed 2,063 British adults online between the 8th and 10th May 2015 and 2,014 British adults online between the 15th and 17th May 2015. Data were weighted to be representative of British adults aged 18+. ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. Data tables are available at www.comres.co.uk

  2. Only 16 per cent of British adults said no barriers would discourage them from telling somebody else about their concerns that someone was in an abusive relationship. Almost 1 in 3 (31 per cent) said they know someone who has experienced domestic abuse.

  3. Of the 427  people in the survey who had personally experienced domestic abuse, 48 per cent friends or a family member knew, compared to 14 per cent who said the police knew, and 2 per cent each who said an Independent Domestic Violence Advocate (IDVA) or other specialist domestic abuse worker knew.

  4. Almost 1 in 2 (48 per cent) feel that worrying about making the situation worse would discourage them from telling anyone else about a suspected abusive relationship.

  5. Names have been changed to protect the anonymity of victims of domestic abuse.

  6. The Citizens Advice service comprises a network of local Citizens Advice, all of which are independent charities, the Citizens Advice consumer service and national charity Citizens Advice. Together we help people resolve their money, legal and other problems by providing information and advice and by influencing policymakers. For more see theCitizens Advice website.

  7. The advice provided by the Citizens Advice service is free, independent, confidential, and impartial, and available to everyone regardless of race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, religion, age or nationality.

  8. To find your local Citizens Advice in England and Wales or to get advice online, visitcitizensadvice.org.uk.

  9. You can get consumer advice from the Citizens Advice consumer service on 03454 04 05 06 or 03454 04 05 05 for Welsh language speakers.

  10. Citizens Advice Bureaux in England and Wales advised 2.5 million clients on 6.2 million problems in 2014/15. For full 2013/2014 service statistics see our quarterly publicationAdvice trends.

  11. Citizens Advice service staff are supported by more than 21,000 trained volunteers, working at over 2,500 service outlets across England and Wales.