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Guidance for Professionals

Guidance for professionals

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Scotland’s Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage Helpline is here to support anyone experiencing domestic abuse or forced marriage as well as their friends, family, colleagues, and professionals supporting them. If you are a professional concerned about someone, we are here for you as well.


From our callers

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Excellent service. Call Handler answered my questions in a professional manner and gave lots of detailed information to help me support my client.


People experiencing domestic abuse may find it difficult to ask for support. They may have become isolated from family and friends, and may fear the consequences of disclosing or reporting the abuse. They may not identify their relationship as abusive, however they may express feeling uncomfortable about how elements of it make them feel. If you are a professional supporting someone who is experiencing domestic abuse, there are some things you can do to help them.


For employers

Many organisations have a policy in place for supporting employees experiencing domestic abuse - check this first. If your organisation does not have such a policy, it would be a good idea to discuss this with your line manager or HR department.

If your workplace does not yet have a policy on domestic abuse, a good framework for approaching an employee you believe may be at risk could be:

  • Be curious when you see changes in your colleague's behaviour. Behaviour changes such as withdrawal from social activities they once enjoyed; becoming isolated and distant; reticent to discuss private life when they previously enjoyed this; suddenly changing the way they present or dress, or checking their phone frequently, can all indicate domestic abuse, particularly when linked to the start of a new relationship. Other signs might include sudden onset of nervousness, anxiety and/or depression; lack of sleep/exhaustion; extreme weight gain or loss; sudden frequent absences from work; and unexplained physical injuries.
    For more information, see our page: 'What is Domestic Abuse?'
  • Offer regular 1-1 meetings to your employees. During these 1-1 meetings, enquire about emotional wellbeing as well as work or performance-based support.
  • Create a supportive culture for employees. One of the best ways that you can support someone in your workplace who may be experiencing abuse is to make work a safe place for them. If you provide a supportive environment, they will be more likely to open up to you if they need help.
  • Display our Helpline poster in the staff room or other communal areas. You can find our posters to print in the 'How you can help' section of our website.

  • Do not report without consent unless a child or vulnerable adult is at risk, or you suspect immediate risk of harm. If you are unsure about this, you can call the Helpline for further guidance.
  • Stay calm, even if you are hearing difficult or upsetting things.
  • Hold space for the person to talk. They’ve opened up to you and will have things they want to say. It’s helpful not to interrupt their flow with your thoughts and opinions.
  • Remain non-judgemental, and don’t offer your own feelings or opinions – try to focus on their situation and let them speak uninterrupted.
  • Ask open questions, but don’t push for more information than they are willing to share – it is important to let them control their own story. Never ask for details about the abuse, do not ask for proof, and don’t ask them why they don’t just leave.
  • Keep any disclosure confidential – do not discuss things with colleagues, other professionals, or family members.
  • Try not to treat them differently after the disclosure – you may want to check up on them more often or excuse them from usual duties, but it’s important to keep things as normal as possible and not to alert other employees to their situation.

  • Ask the person what they want to happen now, and what – if any – other ongoing support they’d like, either from you or from elsewhere.
  • Offer to make yourself available to the person for 1-1 time on an ongoing basis.
  • If needed, offer private use of an office so that they can make calls or send emails to access support or make plans if they want to leave the abuser. Many people experiencing abuse are closely monitored and they may not be able to take this action using their own phone/computer.
  • Ask if they need work adjustments or support to take action, e.g. time off for appointments, flexible working, annual leave days at short notice. This may be required in the longer term, even if they leave the abuser. Try to ensure that they are not penalised for any absences resulting from the abuse.
  • Provide them with details of support agencies such as our helpline and Women’s Aid.

  • You can phone the Helpline at any time for guidance and support. If you are unsure about anything, do not hesitate to contact us.
  • Supporting someone who is experiencing abuse can also take its toll on you, so it’s important to look after your own wellbeing too.
  • Find out if your organisation offers an employee counselling line or other support for people who are experiencing abuse or hardship.
  • Seek consent from the person before you take any action – this is very important. Contacting police without their consent could break their trust, take their power and choice away, and could even put them at greater risk if the abuser finds out they have told someone about the abuse. Even if you are concerned about the safety of a child or believe there is an immediate risk of harm which means that you have to share information due to your safeguarding responsibilities, it’s important that you communicate any actions you have to take with the person, so they are aware of what is happening.

There may be some practical adjustments that could be made to the person’s work environment, in order to help them feel safer. These should be done with full consultation with the person, taking their lead on what will help them feel safe – and not imposing our own ideas of what will help them feel safe. They are the experts on their own experience and will have information about their situation that we don’t.

Every work place will be different, but some examples could include:

  • Changes to work times/patterns/location/role, e.g. moving the person away from a public-facing role or area
  • Ensuring that next of kin or emergency contact details are up to date
  • Checking that bank details are up to date
  • Keeping information about/photographs of the person off the website and social media
  • Ensuring all staff are clear about the confidentiality of staff addresses or other information about things like shift patterns
  • Checking if they have safe travel arrangements for work
  • Diverting or screening phone calls
  • Discussing with the person what to tell colleagues and how to handle the situation if the abuser comes to the workplace or makes contact
  • Offering to inform security or reception staff if relevant
  • Keeping records of any incidents of abuse that happen in the workplace

For other professionals

If you are a GP or other health professional, there is official guidance on how to approach supporting someone experiencing domestic abuse:

Domestic Abuse RCGP

You can also help promote the helpline service to those who need it. Please display our helpline poster prominently in waiting areas and toilets.

You can phone the Helpline at any time for guidance and support. If you are unsure about anything, do not hesitate to contact us.

If you are a teacher supporting a student who is experiencing domestic abuse either in the family home or in their own relationship, or who you suspect to be affected by abuse, you may find this guidance useful:

https://education.gov.scot/improvement/self-evaluation/domestic-abuse-information-for-educators/

You can phone the Helpline at any time for guidance and support. If you are unsure about anything, do not hesitate to contact us.

You can also help promote the helpline service to those who need it. Please display our helpline poster prominently.

If you are a social landlord and you become aware that one of your tenants is experiencing abuse, you may find the following information useful:

Domestic Abuse Guidance for Social Landlords

Depending on the nature of your service, you may be looking for more information to help you understand domestic abuse or how best to respond. You may find our general information for supporting someone with domestic abuse helpful.

You can phone the Helpline at any time for guidance and support. If you are unsure about anything, do not hesitate to contact us.

You can also help promote the helpline service to those who need it. Please display our helpline poster prominently in community spaces, noticeboards, waiting areas, or toilets.

If you are a professional concerned that someone has been forced to marry, or may be at risk, you may find the following guidance from the Scottish Government useful:

Forced Marriage Practitioner Guidance

This Multi-Agency Guidance includes information for your understanding and to guide your approach as well as service specific information for:

  • health workers
  • school, college and university staff
  • police officers
  • children and families social workers
  • adult support and protection staff
  • local authority housing and homelessness staff

You may also find our general information about forced marriage and about supporting someone with forced marriage helpful. You are welcome to phone the Helpline at any time for guidance and support. If you are unsure about anything, do not hesitate to contact us.

If you are working within an agency where you are likely to come across people threatened with or in a forced marriage, you can also help us to promote the helpline service. Please display our helpline poster prominently in community spaces, noticeboards, waiting areas, or toilets.

Scottish Women’s Aid are the lead Scottish organisation developing exciting, innovative domestic abuse training informed both by leading research and delivery models, as well as from practical information directly from the thousands of women and children supported by Scottish Women’s Aid members across the country every year.

Scottish Women’s Aid offer a wide range of training opportunities, drawing on over 40 years’ experience of working with women, children and young people affected by domestic abuse. This includes specific training to local Women’s Aid groups as well as offering learning opportunities to practitioners and policy makers.

Scottish Women's Aid learning and development opportunities can be found here:
https://womensaid.scot/learning-development/

Scottish Women’s Aid was founded as a national body to be a voice for the Women’s Aid movement and to influence policy and legislation, freeing up the time of local groups to provide crisis and long-term support to women, children and young people experiencing domestic abuse.

Over the years Scottish Women’s Aid has shaped and influenced local and national policy relating to domestic abuse in the public sector, within criminal justice and beyond. This is done through direct engagement with decision makers, but also through responding to consultations on a broad range of issues, preparing policy briefings and conducting research.

More information about Scottish Women's Aid policy and research work can be found here:
https://womensaid.scot/working-for-change/policy-research/