Leeds domestic abuse charity launches new awareness campaign as it braces for 'busy' January

A Leeds charity has launched a pioneering campaign to raise awareness of the signs of domestic abuse as its staff prepare themselves for the annual rise in calls from victims who have struggled over the festive period.

By Joanna Wardill
Tuesday, 28th December 2021, 4:45 am
Updated Tuesday, 28th December 2021, 5:00 pm

Behind Closed Doors supports men, women and children in Leeds whose lives are, or have been, affected by domestic abuse to live safely and recover from their experiences..

This year the charity is launching plans to roll out a major new programme of raising awareness among businesses - often the only safe place for victims of abuse - to spot the signs and learn how best to support those affected.

The campaign is the latest step in the charity’s vital work to highlight - and end - domestic abuse and comes as its staff brace themselves for the inevitable increase that January brings, of people reaching out for help.

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Behind Closed Doors chief executive, Ruth Davany

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Over the last three years, the charity’s referrals in January have almost doubled compared to December - rising by an average of 74 per cent between the two months.

Its chief executive, Ruth Davany, said they find women often put family members before the safety of themselves, opting to keep the family together over Christmas before seeking help in January.

She said: “January has historically been our busiest month. When the children have gone back to school and we are over the Christmas period, people who have experienced domestic abuse have a bit of time to access services safely.

“They can think about the situation and think 'now is the time, I want to change things'.”

She said: “Christmas is one of those times of year that can be really pressurised for families,” leading to a particularly “challenging and isolating time for someone in an abusive relationship”.

There is no annual leave in January at Behind Closed Doors, as staff prepare to meet the rise in demand.

“The team will be at full complement, ready to pick up these new referrals,” said Ruth. “But also ready to respond to the changing situation that our current service users have experienced during the Christmas period.”

Ruth said she hopes the charity’s new training programme for businesses will help to reduce the number of people trapped in abusive situations across the city.

She said for many victims, the workplace is their only safe space and employers are “uniquely placed” to be able to spot signs.

She said: “One in four women will experience domestic abuse at some point in their lives and one in six men will also.

“So it’s likely that someone within your team at work has experienced domestic abuse.

Employers are uniquely placed to be able to spot signs and have that safe environment to have that conversation with someone and help consider what their safe next steps could be.

“I think all of us have a responsibility to tackle domestic abuse in the same way we are used to talking about safeguarding concerns.”

The training programme - led by a team of specialists - will be expanded throughout 2022, with flyers and information on the charity’s updated website and social media channels to help spread the word.

The current threat of lockdown will also be bringing its own anxieties and pressures, says Ruth.

Last year, between January and December 2020, West Yorkshire Police logged 21,940 domestic abuse reports in Leeds alone.

At Behind Closed Doors, Ruth said service user numbers rose by 21 per cent last year.

“It’s a huge rise,” said Ruth. “Our service users describe lockdown as feeling trapped, living with an abuser in a house where you can’t get out, can’t get to that safe work pace.

“As restrictions come in again, it’s a really anxious time for people who are experiencing domestic abuse.

“It’s just a very isolating and difficult time for our service users.”

*Leeds Domestic Violence Service (LDVS) 24 hours helpline number is 0113 246 0401.

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