Domestic violence against women: giving friends and relatives the keys to help

Today [Friday 8 March] International Women’s Day [IWD 2019] is celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women but worldwide, domestic violence and abuse (DVA) is still experienced by almost one in three women. It has become a major public health issue, with profound physical and mental health impact. A research project by the University of Bristol, funded by AXA Research Fund, aims to develop resources that will help informal groups, such as friends and family, support women who experience domestic violence.

Research has shown that most DVA survivors choose to access support from the people closest to them, including friends, family, colleagues and neighbours, rather than from professionals. The research project, led by Dr Alison Gregory, will better equip DVA supporters so that they might better support survivors.

The aim of the project will be to develop, produce and pilot a tailored intervention designed to meet the needs of informal supporters of DVA survivors. This intervention will not only support informal survivors, improving their own health, wellbeing and safety, but will also equip them to better meet the needs of survivors.

Dr Alison Gregory , Research Fellow (Traumatised and Vulnerable Populations) in the Bristol Medical School: Population Health Sciences (PHS ) and the Univesity’s Centres for Gender and Violence Research and Academic Primary Care , said: "Most women facing domestic violence choose to turn to the people closest to them for help but friends and relatives can ’get it wrong’ because they are not skilled, equipped or supported within the situation.

"However, support from these relatives, friends, neighbours and colleagues can provide a buffer against effects on the survivor’s physical health, mental health, and quality of life, and research has shown it can protect against future abuse."

The research project will:

  • Make use of qualitative research methods to highlight the knowledge and expertise of informal supporters of DVA survivors to understand the necessary, important, and potentially useful components which could be incorporated into an intervention;
  • Use this knowledge to develop and create an intervention which is likely to be acceptable, accessible, and of interest to, informal supporters of DVA survivors;
  • Pilot the developed intervention with informal supporters and DVA survivors, to gain data about its feasibility and potential value.

The research project will recruit a wide-range of people who are providing informal support to a survivor. With these people, exploratory work will be carried out to establish and prioritise their needs and preferences for an intervention. Once the necessary components of the product or service are decided, the intervention will be developed.

Depending on what the research finds, further products will be created and adapted to the needs of different groups, such as an app for younger people or other material for older people.

The products will then be tested to assess their impact along with collaboration with organisations including Women’s Aid, AAFDA (Advocacy After Fatal Domestic Abuse), and the Hollie Gazzard Trust.

It is hoped the research will fill a key knowledge gap about the best ways to provide support to friends and family members of DVA survivors and to understand the roles informal supporters play.

The findings of the research could directly benefit informal supporters of DVA survivors, survivors of DVA, providers of specialist DVA services, DVA researchers, commissioners of specialist DVA services, and DVA policy makers.

By better understanding the dynamics within DVA survivors’ social networks, and by exploring the possibilities for friends and family members to increase and improve the informal support they provide, society will become more equipped and skilled to notice and respond to domestic violence.

The two-year 125,000 research project ’ Domestic violence against women: giving friends and relatives the keys to help’ , funded by AXA Research Fund, will begin on 31 August 2019. Dr Gregory’s Elizabeth Blackwell Institute Early Career Fellowship was instrumental in securing this additional research project.