New funding to train public-facing professionals spot the signs of domestic abuse has been announced. And campaigners are already hailing it a success.
There hasn’t much Silvia Hearle hasn’t heard in her busy hairdressing shop in Glasgow’s Polokshields. A stylist for over 25 years, she’s practically heard it all from her loyal Southside clientele. However, a chance conversation with one customer changed her perspective for good.
“She was quite open from the beginning saying she was in a terrible situation and was fearing for her life,” says Silvia. “She didn’t cry and remained calm. But she told me she thought her husband was trying to kill her.”
The chilling calmness made Silvia aware her customer needed help. But what if she refused the offers? “I just remember saying, ‘Look, you can’t go back to him; you’ve got to get way now.’ But she just said she had nowhere to go. So I told I’d look after that: as long as she guaranteed me she wouldn’t be going back to her abusive husband.”
The customer eventually was persuaded and, over the next three months, was supported into new accommodation along with her 16 year old son.
Silvia intervention was praised by women’s charities but also spurned her on to sign up to a ground-breaking initiative which trains workers in public-facing roles to spot the tell-tale signs of domestic abuse.
This week a cash boost of £115,000 was given to Ask, Validate, Document and Refer (AVDR) programme set up by Medics Against Violence and the Violence Reduction Unit.
Vets, dentists, doctors, firefighters and hairdressers are all being trained as part of the programme how to spot the signs of the crime and how to sensitively handle dealing with victims.
Already 2,000 workers in these settings have benefitted from the project. But with the new funding it will now be rolled out across Scotland reaching potentially 100,000 professionals.
Veterinary surgeons got involved after the charity Medics Against Violence realised there was a clear link between the abuse of animal cruelty and domestic abuse.
Vet Karen Campbell took on the training after being asked by the Scottish SPCA to carry out a post mortem on the dog of one of her clients. The dog lived in a house where there was domestic abuse.
She said: “The poor animal had been kicked to death.
“I’ll always remember the SSPCA inspector, who visited the dog’s home, described it as a ‘house of violence’ with smashed windows and doors. Both the partner and the dog had been abused.
“I was really shocked and upset by the incident and wanted to do something to stop this happening to other animals which is why I jumped at the chance to be involved in the AVDR scheme."
The scheme is based on an American model that has been adapted for use in Scotland by Dr Christine Goodall, a lecturer and consultant in Oral Surgery at the University of Glasgow.
She said: “A number of professionals have been in touch following training to let us know of cases where they have been able to put their training into practice to help victims."
Domestic abuse costs Scotland £2.3 billion in 2013. Incidents have become more complance where perpetrators target animals or even children to het at their partner.
The ex-partner of one woman stabbed her cat to death with a pen, and during a physical attack on one woman in front of her children, the perpetrator hung the family pet from a light fitting.
Other reports include animals frozen, burned and microwaved to death.
Dr Marsha Scott, chief executive of Scottish Women’s Aid, welcomed the roll-out, saying: “We welcome anything that spreads accountability and that improves the likelihood that women and children will be encouraged to disclose domestic abuse, and helps ensure that they get the help they need when they need it.”
Susan J, who lives in Midlothian, has just relocated after a paramedic realised she was enduring a violent homelife
Called to deal with her asthmatic son, paramedics quickly realised her relationship with her husband was abusive.
“I don’t think I’d have made the move myself without the support,” she said. “I was just too scared and didn’t know where to go. But the medics reassured me it was the right move. It didn’t happen overnight; it took six months. But I did it I’m so thankful to those who supported me.
Susan now volunteers to help train others identify people who may be in vulnerable situations.
“There are subtle clues and cues that can indicate all is not right in a person’s homelife,” she said. “The first thing is usually the atmosphere – and if this is detected simple questions like ‘is all ok at home?’ can give the cue for a victim to open up.
“It’s mostly about how professionals approach the situation, what to look for. It is basically common sense but when you are dealing with something completely different and getting on with the job in hand it’s understandable that often even the most obvious clues aren’t picked up on. So it’s all about raising awareness.”
Pamela McElhinney, of Glasgow East Women's Aid said any any initiative that results in increased reporting of domestic abuse should be welcomed.
"If you look at who Medics Against Violence are targeting, it makes sense that they see the connection between people who are in professions which involves a high level of interpersonal skills, eg hairdressers.
"Similarly a common perpetrator characteristic is to abuse animals sadly - inflict injury on an innocent animal to upset the victim - and therefore vets are also relevant and they may be meeting a victim of abuse at a really vulnerable time."
Forty years of breaking down barriers
Scottish Women’s Aid has been at the forefront of pioneering ways to combat andchallenge domestic abuse in Scotland.
Now as it celebrates its 40th year it is to mark the work of feminists who helped change attitudes in society with a £300,000 project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.
Nel Whiting, learning and development worker for Scottish Women’s Aid, who is co-ordinating the project, said: “The first Women’s Aid groups started in Glasgow and Edinburgh in 1973, providing refuge accommodation to “battered wives”.
“Three years later, the national Scottish Women’s Aid office opened to co-ordinate awareness-raising and put domestic abuse on the political agenda.
“At the time is was simply not considered as a serious social issue.
"Somuch has changed since that time, including the language we use to talk aboutdomestic abuse, and much of this is attributable to the work of Women’s Aid inhighlighting the scale and seriousness of domestic abuse, and addressing genderinequality as cause and consequence of such violence.”
Alongside Glasgow Women’s Library, the University of Glasgow Centre for Gender History and Women’s History Scotland, the project aims to conserve and tell how Women’s Aid evolved in Scotland through the voices of the women involved in the movement from its earliest years onwards.
Theproject will create an archive and website as well as a touring exhibition withlocal events organised to interpret the history of Scottish Women’s Aid forlocal community members, activists, students and academics.
Plans are for around 100 women involved in Women’s Aid at different times in its history to be interviewed by an army of 50 volunteers creating an oral history “bank” of women’s unique stories.
They will include people who set up the first refuges, and those who have worked for the organisation and campaigned for Women’s Aid, as well as politicians, journalists and academics who have worked closely with the charity.
Theirstories will be recorded, archived and gathered in an exhibition celebratingScottish Women’s Aid’s 40th anniversary.
Adele Patrick,of Glasgow Women’s Library, where the archive will be held, said: “The movement at local and national level is a unique and important part of Scotland’s recent heritage.
"Those involved over the years have, in different ways, sought to preserve and to celebrate the story, and there is pride in the origins and achievement of Women’s Aid.
“However, the memories and associated artefacts are scattered and have never been systematically catalogued and interpreted.
"The HLF grant will enable us to make the archive accessible and usable for everyone who wants to learn more about Women’s Aid in Scotland.”
Andrea Thomson, of Glasgow University’s Centre for Gender History, added: “The Women’s Aid movement in Scotland is important not only to the thousands of women, children and young people who have been affected by domestic abuse, but to the whole of society.
"The work of the feminist pioneers who struggled against many odds to bring about a huge change in society, is not widely known and we are excited to be involved in this worthwhile project which will draw attention to this often overlooked part of Scotland’s history.”