Major sporting events are often occasions when we see a mix of joy and disappointment spread across the country depending on how well your team does. But these events are sadly often associated with a surge in domestic violence. As the world’s attention turns to the latest Men’s FIFA World Cup, we are also thinking of those will experience violence and abuse during this time, especially today, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and Girls, which marks the beginning of the annual campaign of 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence.
Violence against women and girls can mean different things: including domestic abuse; sexual violence and rape; coercive control; stalking and harassment; trafficking of women; Female Genital Mutilation; intimidation and harassment at work, in education, or in public; forced prostitution; forced marriage; and ‘honour’ crimes. Whatever shape it takes, it is unacceptable.
Here in Bristol, we have made a commitment, through the work of the Mayoral Commission on Domestic Abuse, to make our city a zero-tolerance city, where domestic abuse and sexual violence is not tolerated, and where survivors are supported.
It is estimated that around 67,150 individuals aged 16 or over will have experienced domestic abuse over their lifetime in Bristol. We want to end violence against women, this year we have put in place more services and initiatives where survivors can speak up and disclose their experience whilst also making sure we call out perpetrators for their harmful behaviour.
Next Link relaunching as Next Link Plus
We have been working with Next Link for over 23 years and recently they have been recommissioned to continue to provide domestic abuse services in Bristol for the next four and a half years.
As lead provider, Next Link have joined with Nilaari, Off the Record, Bristol Drugs Project, 1625 Independent People, St Mungo’s, Victim Support, and the deaf health charity Sign Health to form Next Link Plus, a new partnership that will offer more specialist support to all adults and child survivors of domestic abuse in Bristol.
This broader support for domestic abuse victims is needed now more than ever. The COVID-19 pandemic was especially difficult for victims and survivors for many reasons, victims were being trapped in their homes with their abusers and not being able to easily access the services where they can get help. Now it’s the cost-of-living crisis that is having a major impact on many people’s lives. Next Link Plus is seeing an increasing number of people experiencing economic abuse, which makes it harder for them to leave their abusive partners.
IRISi new intervention ADVISE
When domestic violence and abuse is disclosed, the information is often shared with a health professional, but many do not feel confident providing support. To make sure more professionals are comfortable doing so, together with South Gloucestershire Council, we have launched a new service in local sexual health clinics.
IRISi Assessing for Domestic Violence and Abuse in Sexual Health Environment (ADViSE) programme is delivered at Unity Sexual Health clinics. Women affected by domestic abuse and sexual violence are three times more likely to have gynaecological and sexual health problems. Therefore, they present at a sexual health clinic more often. In response, staff have been trained to identify and respond to the signs of both domestic and sexual violence and abuse and directly refer patients to a specialist service for support available on site.
Working with St Mungo’s and Next Link, we opened Respite Rooms back in October 2021. The Respite Rooms offer immediate safe spaces for women who have experienced domestic abuse, violence, rape or sexual assault, sex work or exploitation and who are sleeping rough or at risk of doing so. This service offers short term intensive support and emergency accommodation for women who other refuge provision may not be appropriate for and who need more specialised, trauma and gender informed support. Women are then supported to move on to what best suits their needs and to access appropriate services moving forward.
The opening of the Respite Rooms has been heralded as an exemplar, and we recently had the pleasure of showing the Domestic Abuse Commissioner for England and Wales, Nicole Jacobs, the great work the rooms are doing for survivors.
The Keeping Bristol Safe Partnership’s Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence Survivor Forum has been set up to hear and respond to the experiences and needs of women who have lived through domestic abuse and sexual violence.
The DASV Forum meets fortnightly with leading professionals from Avon and Somerset Police, our Public Health team, and other statutory services to explain to professionals the real impact of domestic abuse on individuals and families. The Forum is made up of a diverse group of incredibly courageous women, and works hard to educate, improve and challenge systems, services and responses to domestic abuse and sexual violence in Bristol.
Bristol Nights Women’s Safety Charter and It’s Not OK campaign
Back in March, Bristol Nights launched a Women’s Safety Charter, working alongside the council, Bristol’s Violence Against Women and Girls specialists, night-time venues and Avon and Somerset Police. Most women surveyed by Bristol Nights said they have experienced some level of harassment on a night out. The Women’s Safety Charter calls on all organisations to join in tackling gender inequality and make Bristol a fair and inclusive city. By coming together, we can make a joint effort in improving the safety of women, and everyone, at night.
Bristol Nights also launched their It’s Not OK campaign at the beginning of the year – a campaign designed to call out bad behaviours and communicate Bristol’s zero-tolerance policy to harassment of women.
Remembering the lives that have been lost
As we work towards making Bristol a zero-tolerance city, it is important that we remember and honour those who have sadly suffered gender-based violence. Yesterday, Next Link Plus and I, held a candle lit vigil which started at Queen Square before making their way to College Green.
City Hall was also lit up yesterday, alongside the vigil, ahead of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and to remember the women and girls who have lost their lives.
We are proud of all the work that we have supported and achieved this year. We can only hope that by encouraging more people to speak out when they face abuse and providing services where they can reach safety and support, that it will bring us a step closer to becoming a city that is safe for all.
If you or someone you know is or has been affected by domestic abuse, you can access support via:
- Next Link Plus service 0800 4700 280
- National Domestic Violence Helpline 0808 2000 247
- Always call 999 in an emergency