Each domestic abuse survivor’s experience is different

1 December, 2020

As part of the 16 Days of Action campaign against domestic abuse, VSS Support Co-ordinator Rita writes about how domestic abuse can come in many forms and affects everyone differently. She describes some of the emotional and practical support available for each domestic abuse victim/survivor.

Since working at Victim Support Scotland, I have helped many people who are impacted by domestic abuse. Domestic abuse isn’t the same for everyone. It’s a unique situation for anyone having to deal with it and the support Victim Support Scotland provides is tailored to each person’s experience.

It is important to know that domestic abuse is not necessarily physical – it can also be psychological, financial, emotional, verbal and/or sexual.

Psychological abuse and coercive control  

I have seen that many abusers exert coercive control over their victims, a strategic pattern of behavior that humiliates, dominates, and creates dependency. Often, they try to cut victims off from their friends and family, perhaps monitoring their messages and social media channels. This isolation means that the abuser becomes the only person providing comfort and support.

Coercive control can include gaslighting, where psychological manipulation is used to make someone doubt their memory, perception or sanity. I saw an example of this last year, when I was working with a woman who had come to Victim Support Scotland for support. She mentioned a recurring scenario where she would make herself some toast. She would leave bread to toast, come back and the toast would have vanished, and the plate would be sitting on the drying rack washed up, but the toaster would still be hot. This small but continuous act by her partner made her question herself, feel like she was losing control and affected her self-esteem. This was part of a successful plan to disempower her and made her more dependent on her abusive partner.

Warning signs  
Signs of emotional abuse or coercive control are not physically visible and there are a couple of warning signs that you can look out for if you’re concerned about a loved one. Perhaps someone who was previously very confident has a drop in self-esteem or maybe you notice that they have stopped contacting you and that you are consistently the one starting the conversation.

If you are worried that someone close to you may have a history of being abusive then under the Disclosure Scheme for Domestic Abuse Scotland, you can go to the police and ask if someone is on the domestic violence register and has domestic abuse convictions. Information about someone on the register will only be given to the person best placed to protect the potential victim and who needs to know the details to keep them safe.

Unfortunately, during the Coronavirus pandemic we have seen an increase in domestic abuse across Scotland. Due to lockdown restrictions many women and vulnerable people have been cut off from their usual support networks.

Alongside the increase in domestic abuse, the pandemic-related delay in the court system throughout Scotland has an impact on domestic abuse survivors. Perpetrators are not being held on remand (detained in prison until the trial) due to lockdown measures, which means domestic abuse survivors are not given the protection or space they need to form plans to escape their situation. Furthermore, we have seen some domestic abuse court cases dropped altogether for a number of reasons linked to the pandemic.

How we can help
It is important for anyone affected by domestic abuse to know that the support of Victim Support Scotland is always available. You don’t need to report abuse to the police to get our help. We provide confidential support whether or not you want to leave the situation.

Our experienced team of volunteers can provide you with positive emotional support to help build up your self-esteem and empower you to achieve what you want. You can speak to us on our helpline (0800 160 1985) and via our chat service on our website (bottom right) or Facebook page. Our service is completely confidential and if you contact us on web chat, the conversation will disappear completely once the chat ends leaving no record. If you are concerned about a loved one, we can provide tips on how best to approach them as well as the support and options available to them.

Practical help including the Victims’ Fund  
We also provide practical support, for example, we can help if your case goes to court by arranging special measures such giving evidence remotely, providing court familiarisation visits, and supporting you in court while you give evidence. We can also help you to be re-housed somewhere safe by writing letters to social landlords or provide you with a personal alarm.

One important form of support is our Victims’ Fund. This is available to anyone in Scotland who finds themselves in financial hardship due to a crime they have experienced. You can access assistance of up to £3000. I have helped women who have left abusive situations by using the Fund to install security systems or to buy replacement clothes or furniture for their temporary accommodation. I have discovered how valuable it is for domestic abuse survivors to know that this financial support is available should they choose or need to leave their situation.

Finally, what I would like to say is that if you are affected by domestic abuse, you are not alone. It happens to so many other people and it is not your fault. Please don’t think you have to handle this by yourself. We can help you through it.

Victim Support Scotland is here to help anyone affected by crime. If you need support, please contact us via our helpline (0800 160 1985), our webchat service (see bottom right) or our contact form.