Standing Still, but Standing Safe

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by Jo Moulton, Content Creator DCF.

“The fear does not go, just because you have moved.” 

Rising Moments Community Project Group

There are many stigmas and preconceptions attached to domestic abuse. That much at least, is what we know. What I didn’t know is that there is a reason why we sometimes hear that in the beginning the abuser was kind, caring, charming, loving, warm, sensitive ….  all the things we wish for in a partner, and it’s because he, or sometimes she, designed it that way.

From research, I have discovered that an abusive relationship, much like any other connection between two people, is one that is entered into gradually and via a set of phases or stages. But, like love, or any emotion, because it’s not tangible, it’s not always easy to recognise. The first stage, for example, is charm.  We can all of us succumb to a bit of that. Who, after all, doesn’t want to feel important, validated, beautiful, worthy of deep and meaningful love, worshipped even?

Charm is integral, look out for red flags – coming on too strong; using words like ‘always’ and ‘forever’, calling you all the time, turning up unannounced, keeping you so busy with romantic surprises that you don’t see your friends; bombarding you with presents; picking out your clothes.

We’re conditioned to see this as romance, but it’s control.[1]

But this expression, these outpourings, unlike those of a healthy relationship, are not based on affection or feeling, but are a dance, a show, a warm-up act, a stage on which further and far more ugly characters are set to make a later appearance. Abuse survivors talk of an isolation period next, where the perpetrator will aim to sever contact between them and their family and friends. This is so the abuser is free to carry out the next phases unchallenged, and survivors may have got to this point still, under a convincing facade that nothing is untoward.

Once abuse starts it can therefore feel right to excuse it, forgive it, accept blame for it even or defend it, all under the spell of a cleverly created illusion.

Domestic abuse can include, but is not limited to, the following: [2]

  • Coercive control (a pattern of intimidation, degradation, isolation and control with the use or threat of physical or sexual violence)
  • Psychological and/or emotional abuse
  • Physical or sexual abuse
  • Financial or economic abuse
  • Harassment and stalking
  • Online or digital abuse

I married my ex-husband in October of 2005 thinking that he was a kind, gentle, compassionate, and caring man. Not until I was pregnant with our child did I see his true character. When I was about six months pregnant, he slapped me across my face, leaving me with a black eye and knocking me to the ground. Luckily nothing happened to my baby, but the abuse did not end there. At the time, I was living in Ecuador. I was trapped and scared.” [3]

“Like a lot of abused women, I thought that if I loved him enough that I could help him heal…to finally know unconditional love. He belittled me, called me names and cursed at me in a way that to this day makes me cringe at its cruelty.  He constantly accused me of cheating on him, and made me feel ashamed of who I was and the mistakes I had made in the past.  And, as is unfortunately all too often the case, he eventually began using physical violence as a means to try and break my spirit.” [4]

But the main purpose of this article, is to check your perception at what happens when the violence and abuse has stopped. I certainly imagined, perhaps naively, that once the immediate danger, or threat of danger had passed, that survivors would be free to move on with their lives. That is not, in many cases, sadly, true.

Domestic abuse can leave a long and lasting legacy. It’s the deep and wide crater to a fierce and destructive meteor, that needs time and sometimes help, to heal.

“All those fears you have that you’re unlovable, stupid, useless, ugly, fat, unemployable, and too sensitive are not true.” [1]

“Recovering from abuse by someone who was close to you is a long process, and the damage may stay with you and your children for years.

“Once you are away from the abuse, and it is safe to feel again, you may have a sense of anti-climax. You are likely to experience grief, pain and a deep sense of loss: your trust will have been betrayed, your self-esteem and confidence are shattered. In many ways it is like being bereaved – and as with a bereavement, healing will take time.” [5]

There were many terms I came across when looking at what we do, here at Devon Community Foundation, to play a small part in this healing process. Language is a powerful thing. One, that in our line of work, it’s important to use wisely and consider carefully. It is no mistake therefore when the groups we know and work with in this area use the following terms with reference to domestic abuse.

          (a) severe emotional shock and pain caused by an extremely upsetting experience
          (b) severe injury, usually caused by a violent attack or an accident

          (a) someone who has committed a crime or a violent or harmful act

          (a) a person who continues to live, despite nearly dying
          (b) a person who is able to continue living their life successfully despite experiencing difficulties [6]

If it’s not possible to imagine from the two accounts I previously cited, then there is no mistaking the severity of these types of acts and the resulting impact on a person, a family, even other loved ones that surround them, by these definitions.

Not only do survivors have to manage the practical aspects of leaving the relationship – like housing, finances, schools, work etc.  But they have emotions to fathom too, whether that is now, or at a point sometimes years past the event or events of trauma.

SAFE (Stop Abuse for Everyone) in Exeter was established 40 years ago with this in mind. It started life as a refuge and over the years has supported thousands of individuals and families to be safe and to recover from the harm caused by domestic violence and abuse.

Today it offers a combination of support programmes and one-on-one counselling aimed at the survivor and their children, if that is the case. It’s important here to reiterate that it is not just the survivor that can suffer the impact of domestic abuse, but other immediate family members too, and these all, are individuals that SAFE aim to support.

Their service users are all very different. Another stigma that SAFE are keen to challenge.

“There is a perception out there that it is only people with a certain socioeconomic background that might experience domestic abuse, but that certainly is not the case.

“We support women and men, any age from 18 through, I think one of my oldest clients was late 70s, but we have had people in their 80s contact us. All backgrounds. Any spectrum of society we have provided support to.”

And their experiences differ enormously as well.

“Right through, from horrendous physical abuse, coercive control, financial abuse or emotional abuse. And the majority of people will have experienced a range of that abuse. Rarely have they experienced one in isolation.

“Some people have been in multiple abuse relationships, some in one abusive relationship. Some may have been in an abusive relationship a long time ago and their current relationship is healthy, but it has a legacy that they now want to seek to address and understand.”

In the last month, a month where we find ourselves in the midst of global chaos and fallout due to the coronavirus outbreak, SAFE have seen a rise in referrals to their service of 45%.

The people that they support, and the people that are now approaching them for help have a mixture of concerns and needs.

“There is a general rise in people’s anxiety and stress levels that they need to reach out for help and support.

“Some are bringing very immediate concerns around the situation with Covid-19 and some people are continuing with the work that they are processing around trauma and domestic abuse.

“Some are long out of relationship, but external pressures are causing internal stress to increase, therefore they are reaching out to us.”

And this is a reaction that is echoed across this area of work. Lucy at SAFE reported that SPLITZ, a high-risk domestic abuse service that they partner with on a regular basis, have seen cases ‘increase massively as well’.

Nationally, we also know Refuge, the UK’s largest domestic abuse charity, reported a 120% increase in calls in one week.

The applications that we at Devon Community Foundation have received to our emergency fund over the last month are, we feel, a reflection of what is happening in our communities across Devon. We are privileged to have been able to facilitate a grant for SAFE to carry on its work during this crisis. SAFE however, is not the only group that we’ve funded in this area, nor, we suspect strongly, will it be the last.

Groups we’ve heard from so far from Plymouth, Exeter and Torbay that support individuals and families at whatever stage of the domestic abuse trap they are, by whatever means of support systems they offer, are all now responding the same way- by carrying on.

“It’s a challenge – it is different. Our whole ethos is based on relational connection, relational work with our service users and with each other, so to suddenly not have contact has been difficult, but we’re just going with it.”

“One of our amazing counsellors Judy Gibbons. SAFE wouldn’t be able to do the work it does without having a really strong, inspiring and empathic staff team – their flexibility and ability to respond to the current changing environment are core to the support we provide.”

But they need help. The funding we were able offer SAFE has enabled them to provide increased telephone and video counselling services to help support their users, but SAFE also told us that they are trying to secure further funding to try and increase that even further to meet growing demand.

Plus, the fallout from the coronavirus is anticipated to endure.

“We know that the legacy of this period of shutdown will be huge for a very long time.”

At this point in time, those that are recovering from the trauma of domestic abuse are not seeking for anything other than to carry on surviving.

What SAFE and others like them merely seek to do, is help them.

What they don’t want to see is their vital work, helping the women, men, children and young people that have got this far through their emotional recovery, suffer another blow at the hands of Covid-19. 

“They may not be feeling that they are progressing forwards in their lives, but they certainly are not feeling that they are deteriorating. We’re keeping them at a point so that they can carry on moving forward after. Essentially, the emotional holding of people during a very challenging time.”


April 2020

We at Devon Community Foundation are in the privileged position of being a conduit for the generous spirit of individuals with the capacity to empathise with stories like this one. Our emergency fund, the Devon Coronavirus Response & Recovery fund is testament to this, and we would like to thank all our donors, pledgers and supporters for their kindness so far.  

If you, or someone you know would like to help us to carry on our support of groups like SAFE, Rising Moments Community Project Group, Simply Councelling, Trevi House & PTSD & C-PTSD Trauma Survivors, Devon please consider giving via our Donate page or contact our Philanthropy Director Scott.


[1] A Moment that changed me: having the courage to leave an abusive relationship.The Guardian

[2] Women’s Aid

[3] Francesca’s Story. Domestic Abuse Violence Hotline

[4] Sil Lai’s Story.  Domestic Abuse Violence Hotline

[5] Women’s Aid. The Survivors Handbook.

[6] Cambridge Dictionary

Other sources:

Women’s Aid. Why don’t women leave abusive relationships

Safe Lives

SPLITZ Support Service

Other support resources.

Fleeing from domestic violence is clarified as essential travel and tickets for train travel to refuges are now free.

Refuge Helpline 0808 2000 247