My working week: 'I cry after hearing one domestic abuse survivor's story. She is lucky to be alive'


Monday

I am an independent domestic violence advocate. I phone one of my clients first thing; I’ve been worried about her over the weekend. Although I’m an atheist, as the phone rings I find myself praying that her partner hasn’t hurt her. She answers, says “I’m not interested in PPI” and hangs up. That’s a code letting me know her abuser is with her and it’s not safe to speak.

Ten minutes later her name flashes up on my phone as she calls back. “I’m ready. I need to go today.” Her refuge referral form is already filled out and I send it straight over, following immediately with a call to the refuge placement coordinator.

We’ve discussed refuge for some time. The relief I feel that she is ready to leave is palpable.

Tuesday

I get confirmation that the client arrived safely at the refuge last night.

Another client has a meeting with social workers. Her children are on the child protection register due to domestic abuse perpetrated by their father. The social worker is reviewing the list of things their mum must do under the safety plan. There are 14 things on the list. The father, the reason we are all there, isn’t even required to turn up to the meeting.

I am her voice when she feels unable to speak. I am a fierce advocate, articulating the level of responsibility they are placing on the survivor of abuse – and comparing it with that given to the perpetrator.

All this is done virtually, and I wish I was in the room with my client to support her through this.

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I video call her as soon as the meeting is over. She is fast descending into a panic attack. Thankfully we have been working on grounding techniques and we do these together to get her through. As usual, I find myself in awe at the strength of these women.

Wednesday

A high-risk referral has come through. A woman has fled her home hundreds of miles away and is sleeping on a friend’s sofa. She got in the car with her baby while her abuser slept. As I read her descriptions of his violence in the referral, I sit down slowly. This woman is lucky to be alive, and so is her daughter.

I call her, conduct a risk assessment and begin putting together a safety plan. Since Covid, all my work is done by phone and email. I contact housing services for her. I send her emotional resources and self care guides. I contact Rape Crisis for a consult.

I call her back to update on my actions and she begins to cry. “I didn’t think anyone would care,” she says. “I thought they’d say it was my fault.”

Thursday

I facilitate domestic abuse awareness training for 30 bright-eyed social work students.

An overwhelmingly majority of safeguarding referrals to social services relate to domestic violence. I ask them how much of their degree syllabus is dedicated the topic. “We had a lecture on it,” one volunteers, and the others nod.

Friday

A client was attacked by her husband last night and is in hospital. I spend the morning on the phone with the safeguarding lead nurse and the refuge coordinator. This time, when my client is discharged, she will not be going home.

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I call another client. She is reluctant to talk. She was referred by social services and doesn’t want to work with me. My role is to support survivors to stay safe, whether or not they decide to leave. We run through a safety plan for her at home and I give her several phone numbers, should she ever need us.

In the afternoon I have my clinical supervision, an essential part of my practice. We talk about my week and I shed some tears for my clients and what they have endured. I reflect on the impact of my work on myself and go through some visualisations, to help me release any trauma I may have absorbed.

This is my reset. This is what means I will come back in on Monday ready to do it all again.

I work with high-risk survivors for a short window, when they are in crisis. My job is to make them safer. I wonder if they know how I wish I could do more.

Some details have been changed

  • Call the 24-hour National Domestic Abuse Helpline, run by Refuge, on 0808 2000 247. Women’s Aid’s online chat can be found here

If you would like to contribute to our My working week series about your job in public services, get in touch by emailing sarah.johnson@theguardian.com



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