On 31st March 2018, the Aurora Helpline and Referral Service for victims and survivors of domestic violence and abuse closed, following recent changes to local authority contracts commissioning the service. In its 6 years of operation, the service helped almost 2500 local victims and survivors and was operated by volunteers. Lyn Tiller, who ran the service, looks back on its achievements and its legacy.
The Aurora Helpline and Referral Service closed on the 31st March 2018, after 6 years of operation.
I am so proud to have managed this service since its inception in 2012, and along with Shonagh Dillon, the CEO of Aurora New Dawn, I feel we created a service that offered a unique addition to Aurora’s other services and positively complemented the other domestic abuse support services offered across the county.
The Aurora Helpline and Referral Service came into operation in August 2012. As an organisation, we were conscious that DVA survivors in our local and surrounding area did not have access to a local, independent, specialist service that ran out of office hours. This meant that the only option survivors had if they needed support during the night or over the weekend was to call the police or a national helpline service.
However, we know that not all survivors want police support immediately after an incident, and whilst we appreciate and respect the work of the national support helplines, we wanted to offer a bespoke, localised, triage option for survivors. In this context, triage means dealing with the needs of a victim based on the experience they are calling to disclose, including making sure they are safe, and putting any measures in place for additional support.
We also wanted to offer a referral pathway for services such as police, nurses and out of office emergency teams that could refer survivors of domestic abuse to us at a time of crisis. Our volunteers could engage with survivors immediately and offer emotional, empathetic support as well as safety planning, risk assessing and an onward referral to a specialist service in their area.
So, with all these elements in mind, the Aurora Helpline and Referral Service was ‘born’. It was an innovative service that offered a real opportunity for survivors to receive early support when they needed it most, including early access to specialist services that could providing ‘wrap-around’ or holistic support for them. The underlying premise behind the design of the service was simple and evidence based: there is a ‘window of opportunity’ when people seek help and if you offer support at that point, they are more likely to engage with support services and with the criminal justice system (Domestic Violence Matters and Tackling Domestic Violence). This engages people quickly, improves their safety and reduces the likelihood of future incidents.
Aurora supports both female and male survivors of domestic abuse. However, in line with national and global statistics the overwhelming majority of survivors (96%) that accessed our helpline were female, and the majority of alleged perpetrators (89%) were male, supporting consistent research findings that domestic abuse is a gendered crime. The Crown Prosecution Service data (2014-15), shows that 93% of defendants in domestic abuse court cases are male, and 84% of victims are female. Two women still being murdered due to male violence every three days in England and Wales (ONS, 2016).
Although I managed the service, it was the volunteers that enabled each shift to happen every year, even at Christmas and bank holidays. Since 2012, the helpline was supported by 88 volunteers offering a service to 2460 clients. The volunteers gave up their time regularly and came from all walks of life including students from the University of Portsmouth, survivors of domestic abuse, health care professionals and community members who wanted to give something back. All our volunteers cared deeply about survivors of domestic abuse, were passionate about the work Aurora delivers, and had a strong commitment to keeping a feminist understanding of domestic violence at the heart of their work.
Volunteers were trained to be empathetic to our survivors’ experiences whatever stage of their journey they were in: whether they wanted help and support in the form of a listening ear, safety information or help to engage with the criminal justice system. Our amazing volunteers have heard some very harrowing stories, but were trained and supported to deal with all situations in a professional and person-centred way.
We asked some of our volunteers about their experience with the helpline and one told us:
Volunteering for Aurora alongside my studies has allowed me to gain real-life experience in helping victims of DV that university could not provide. I will truly miss working for this service. My appreciation for this service is immense and I wish the ‘Aurora New Dawn’ community the best of luck for the future. You’ve made my university experience phenomenal and for that, I cannot thank you enough.
Another volunteer said:
Volunteering for Aurora has given me so much insight into how brave survivors are. Their resourcefulness never fails to inspire me. I love being on the helpline.
The voice of survivors is and always has been at the very heart of Aurora’s services. We believe in capturing their experience to ensure our services are working for them, and to this end we undertake evaluations with all survivors. For the period of 2017 to 2018 completion these evaluations with helpline clients told us the following:
- 83% of clients said they had a greater understanding of risk
- 68% said they were satisfied with the police at the time of contact
- 100% said they had ‘an increased sense of wellbeing’ after speaking with our volunteers
- 100% of clients said that an out of hours’ helpline was important to them
The service has changed and developed over the last six years as the contract and commissioning of services has shifted across the country and as levels of funding for the Helpline were reduced. As a result, for the past three years the service operated for victims and survivors in Portsmouth only. The focus of the Helpline was always the safety of victims and survivors, how best we could support them, and providing an easy access referral route for survivors and professionals out of hours.
The overwhelming majority (86%) of our referrals came from police response and patrol officers in Portsmouth and we want to thank them for working in such close partnership with us and trusting us to make a difference to our shared client group.
I have thoroughly enjoyed implementing; managing and at times being an on-call ‘volunteer’ throughout the last six years. I feel huge sadness at the loss of this service but at the same time, I feel very privileged and proud to have been part of a service that engaged so many women at the point where they were ready to talk to us.
I also want to thank the volunteers for their dedication and unyielding support, the partner agencies who referred to us and the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner for funding the service.
Most importantly I want to extend a MASSIVE thank you to all the brave survivors who trusted us with their stories and allowed us the time to offer them practical and emotional support. The survivors are some of the strongest, bravest and most resilient people I have ever met and they always remind me that everyone is entitled to live a life free from violence and abuse.
To honour the survivors who trusted us, I’d like the final words of this article to come from them:
“The volunteer was amazing, kind and considerate when asking questions. The service has been really good and helpful. In the situation it’s really nice to have someone that doesn’t judge.”
“Overwhelmed with how much support was available, thank you.”
“Kind – great to speak to. Genuine and caring and supportive people who understand the issues of DV.”
“Felt help straight away. Helped recognise other forms of abuse and gained knowledge.”
“Help and explanation Aurora gave was brilliant.”
“Lots of support and felt very comfortable by knowing that there are services here to help.”
“Very supportive and encouraging, would give her [the volunteer] the best rating – very high level.”
“They believed me and that is all I needed.”
If you are looking for advice and support on domestic and violence and abuse, you can call the National Domestic Violence Helpline run by Refuge and Women’s Aid anytime on: 0808 2000247.