For the month of December, Women’s Aid are working to amplify the voices of disabled women who have survived domestic abuse while calling for greater mental health support.
Launched this year, the Deserve To Be Heard campaign is putting the spotlight on a lack of mental health support for survivors of domestic abuse. Throughout December, Women’s Aid are focussing their campaign on disabled voices: studies have shown that disabled women are more than twice as likely to experience domestic abuse in the UK.
“The Deserve To Be Heard campaign is our flagship campaign at the moment, trying to make sure that the mental health needs of women are heard and responded to effectively by the UK government,” explains Isabelle Younane, head of policy and campaigns at Women’s Aid. “I think the key thing about this campaign and what makes it really unique is it’s driven by survivors themselves.
The campaign centres around a need for greater and more immediate mental health support for survivors of domestic abuse, and calls for greater funding and training in the area. Currently, fewer than one in five refuges have a specialist mental health worker, leaving 84 per cent of survivors in refuges with no specialist support to help them overcome their trauma.
“Domestic abuse services are providing emergency support that is vital, they are making sure women can escape their abuser, make sure they have any sort of financial support they need, physical possessions,” offers Isabelle. “That kind of immediate, emergency response is absolutely critical, but what it means is those longer-term impacts on mental health and wellbeing can be deprioritised if the funding isn’t there.”
Training and understanding
Women experiencing domestic abuse, or those who have recently left an abusive situation, can feel isolated, causing serious, long-lasting effects on mental wellbeing.
“We know that almost half of the women in refuges say they’ve experienced depression or have had suicidal thoughts,” reveals Isabelle.
Along with better funding for domestic abuse services and refuges themselves, the campaign is also calling for training for people working in healthcare settings to ensure they can offer the correct support.
“There are two main objectives: the first is to raise awareness and change the narrative about the severe and long-lasting effects and impacts domestic abuse has on the mental health of survivors. The second one is around ensuring that the mental health needs of women are believed and responded to effectively by mental health professionals,” emphasises Isabelle.
“We’re committed to ensuring that all women’s voices are heard, and we say women we mean regardless of age of ability of background ethnic background, so I think that the kind of the holistic nature of this campaign is really, really important.”
Part of this holistic approach is ensuring the unique experiences of disabled women are highlighted. The campaign will do this in the month of December, falling in line with International Day of People with Disabilities and the end of Disability History Month, along with the 16 Days of Action Against Domestic Violence.
“We really wanted to make clear that domestic abuse doesn’t mean everyone is in the same situation, that there are certain groups, including disabled survivors, that will experience it differently and that their voices deserve to be heard in the context of his campaign,” expresses Isabelle. “Using our online platform we are showcasing survivor stories and these are all different kinds of survivors from different backgrounds and communities.
“They have shared their stories in creative ways whether it be paintings and drawings or poetry, and we’re encouraging people on social media to share #HearHer to raise awareness.”
One of the survivors being showcased is Saliha who is visually impaired and experienced honour-based abuse and has now been campaigning on these issues for around eight years, and has been a campaigner with Womensaid for four years. Helping to highlight the voices of disabled female survivors, Saliha was asked to write about her experiences for the campaign.
“I was asked to write a blog around the issues of disabled survivors and mental health because it is something that isn’t very much explored,” remembers Saliha. “Disabled victims of gender-based violence experience many barriers in kind of overcoming the abuse, but also in terms of the types of abuse they experience and how it is affected by their disability. That has definitely has an impact on the mental health.
Through the campaign and sharing her own story, Saliha hopes that there will be more conversations around the topic.
“For me, it’s around education and educating the public on these issues,” she explains. “I hope that they will gain a bit of an understanding. More funding needs to be put into these specialist services and I think services need to be accessible to everyone, those who are providing the services also need to have an awareness of the specific issues facing disabled victims and survivors.”
Saliha’s blog will give an insight into her personal experiences of honour-based abuse, she says: “I have written about the impact that it had on me and my emotional wellbeing and that’s actually something that I’ve never spoken about before. I’m quite pleased to have been able to write this and break the silence on the issues.
“Hopefully the blog will be read by professionals but also disabled women themselves who may be experiencing something similar, I want to tell them that they are not alone and that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
“It gave me the control over an aspect of my life that I didn’t have and not only that, but the opportunity to be heard, to be able to tell people and the world that actually, this was the injustice that you suffered.”
Women’s Aid are here to help any women from any background to leave an abusive situation. Support is available through live chat, email and in survivor’s forums.
The charity also has a survivor’s handbook tailored to disabled women to help people identify abuse and seek help.