On a practical level, as a friend you can:
- Agree a code word or action that your friend can use to signal that they are in danger and cannot access help themselves.
- Offer to keep copies of important documents and other items for them. If they have to leave in a hurry, they don’t have to waste time collecting important belongings.
- Together or on your own, find out information about local services and help.
- Offer any practical help you are able to give, such as the use of your telephone or address for information or messages, keeping spare sets of keys, overnight bags, and important documents for emergencies.
- Offer help to protect them. For example, you could offer to be around when the abuser is there, give them lifts home or take phone messages from the abuser, encourage them to talk to a counsellor, or talk to a counsellor yourself about what you could do to support him/her.
- Encourage and help your friend to develop a safety plan. Agree with their concerns for their safety as well as that of the children. Offer your assistance in developing a plan that may even include you. Help by looking ahead to a plan of action should the abuser become violent again. Suggest an escape bag somewhere which could include an extra set of car keys, ID documents, birth certificates, insurance cards, in case they are needed.
- Encourage the victim to break the isolation. One of the most effective tools for abusers is the victim’s isolation from family, friends, co-workers or any type of support system. Help find an agency offering counselling and support groups.
- Encourage them to take threats seriously. Express your concern for the victim's safety and never minimise threats made by the abuser. Remember, that an abused person is in the most danger when they decide to leave. Respect their judgment as to the right time to leave. The time must be right and safe.
- Evaluate how they cope. Faced with violence and abuse, many people develop ways of coping that are themselves destructive. The last thing they will need is another reason to be hard on themself, so encouragement will be required.
- Let them know that coercive or controlling behaviour in an intimate or family relationship is actually a crime. They may not be ready to call police but talk to them about their options and keep records of what they disclose to you. It may be that if/when they are able to deal with the problems, they will need your notes.
Clare's Law (Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme)
In 2009, Clare Wood was killed by George Appleton, a man with a known history of violence towards women. Clare's bereaved father Michael Brown's grim determination contributed towards a law that could have saved his daughter’s life. His aim was to help to prevent a repeat of what happened to Clare.
Since 2014, Clare’s Law gives any member of the public the right to ask the police if their partner may pose a risk to them. Under Clare’s Law, a member of the public can also make enquiries into the partner of a close friend or family member- this is the Right to Ask. Professionals who have concerns for a client or indeed a police officer themselves can apply under the Right to Know. The aim of this scheme is to give members of the public a formal mechanism to make enquires about an individual who they are in a relationship with or who is in a relationship with someone they know, and there is a concern that the individual may be abusive towards their partner.
If police checks show that the individual has a record of abusive offences, or there is other information to indicate the person you know is at risk, the police will consider sharing this information with the person(s) best placed to protect the potential victim. Your local police force will discuss your concerns with you and decide whether it is appropriate for you to be given more information to help protect the person who is in the relationship with the individual you are concerned about. The scheme aims to enable potential victims to make an informed choice on whether to continue the relationship, and provides help and support to assist the potential victim when making that informed choice.
Many police forces have advice on their websites such as: Thames Valley Police; the Metropolitan Police and Devon & Cornwall Police to name a few. The Devon & Cornwall Police do also publish and easy to read guide to the process.
You can contact your local police by phoning 101 and they can advise you further.