Shortly after the lockdown began, Portsmouth-based charity Aurora New Dawn launched a 24/7 helpline for victims and survivors of domestic violence, sexual abuse and stalking. Here the Aurora team share their helpline data on how many people have used the new helpline, alongside two anonymised stories of women who have called in for support.
To date the Aurora New Dawn 24 hour helpline has received 410 referrals, with 32% of those (131) representing victims and survivors who contacted the helpline themselves (self-referrals), as opposed to being referred in by another agency or organisation.
41% (168) of the victims using the helpline were known to be living with a partner, and the vast majority, 86% (353) of victims are female.
Ann reached out for help after decades of systematic abuse, having seeing an article about domestic abuse and Aurora New Dawn on BBC South today. She decided to call the helpline.
Ann said she was extremely wary and nervous about calling because she has called helplines in the past and only ever reached a voice mail. She was never called back and didn’t have the courage to call again.
Speaking to an advocate from Aurora New Dawn made a huge difference to her. After decades of living with the abuse, she has learned to minimize many of her experiences. She has lost trust in ‘the system’ and in getting help, including not trusting the police, as her husband has used the police as a weapon against her in the past.
Ann and her Aurora helpline advocate spoke at length and she agreed to engage with services for legal advice and to get into motion a strategy to leave and sell the house. She was at extremely high risk from violence and serious harm from her husband. Although she has learned over time to manage her situation, Ann felt there was a high chance the violence could escalate following her decision to divorce her husband and sell the house.
She told her advocate she was comforted to know she had help available to her. There has been no one to speak to before her situation, and Ann often questioned herself and her experiences; she has lived with emotional abuse for so long, she sometimes wonders if it’s normal.
Sometimes, Ann told her advocate tearfully that she just needed someone to talk to someone who understands what she is going through, someone who won’t tell her she is imagining it or that it’s her fault. Having a 24/7 helpline has been so important to her because her darkest times are at night and that is when she most needs someone that she can call.
After a lengthy conversation with her helpline advocate, Anne consented to being referred to her local domestic abuse service for ongoing support.
Jean learned about Aurora and the hotline after seeing an item on BBC South Today and decided to ring in. She was quiet for much of the first half hour of the call. Her helpline advocate aimed to reassure her and keep her on the phone until she was ready to talk.
When Jean started talking, she said many times, ‘I am not sure, I might be wasting your time.’
This was a familiar red flag to her helpline advocate, and is known as ‘minimizing’.
When Jean finally began to share her experience, she told her advocate that she had lived with her husband for several decades, during which time she had experienced all of the most common forms of domestic abuse: physically, psychologically, sexually, and financially, alongside stalking, and being isolated from her friends and family. Unsurprisingly, her mental health had deteriorated, and her husband often used this against her, particularly when anyone came close to suspecting she was being abused, including health workers, police and her colleagues.
As her helpline advocate listened to Jean’s story, she thought that Jean was a literal survivor: given the abuse she had suffered for decades, her advocate felt surprised that Jean was still here.
The pandemic outbreak and subsequent lockdown in the UK escalated the situation even further, and her husband moved out of the house, blaming Jean for his departure. This was the first time in many years that Jean had lived alone and she began to question whether her mental health was really the problem. After a short time, she realised she didn’t want her husband to return; she wanted a divorce.
Jean did not want to tell the advocate her full name, but shared that she was in her sixties and also shared her mobile phone number. Knowing that victims and survivors need to control their experiences, her helpline advocate let Jean set the rules for their interaction. Following a professional assessment, Jean met the criteria for being ‘at extremely high risk of serious harm or murder’.
As her husband was a well known and highly respected figure in their local community, Jean had been overlooked and isolated, as people would struggle to believe he could be capable of such abuse. This puts victims and survivors like Jean at significantly higher risk.
Jean said it was such a big relief that someone believed her. Her helpline advocate explained the many ways that her husband’s behaviour was abusive, as like many victims, Jean had experienced a huge amount of verbal and psychological abuse and did not think this constituted ‘domestic violence’. By going through some of his behaviours one by one, Jean told her advocate ‘The dam burst’, as she realised she had not been imagining how bad her situation really was. Her husband’s physically violent outbursts were so ‘normal’ to Jean, and happened so often, that she told her advocate she had come to believe, ‘If his fists don’t hit my face, it’s just a bit of a row’.
During the conversation, her helpline advocate concluded that Jean has been consistently let down by local services when she could have received help.
Jean said, ‘My husband is so good at manipulating people into thinking he’s not at fault. It’s fool-proof’.
At the end of the call, Jean’s helpline advocate wrote up her notes:
‘Jean has got used to living though extreme degradation, violence and danger. The fact that she called us after only a short time away from her husband’s control shows her enormous bravery and resourcefulness.
‘She has shown fortitude and resilience through everything she has been through. It was a privilege to speak to her and to leave her sounding optimistic and hopeful about getting safeguarding and support to move her life forward to a place where she is free from her husband. She was relieved and hopeful at the prospect of engaging with Aurora New Dawn to support her through the next part of her journey’.
Aurora New Dawn, supported by You First, have launched a helpline for victims and survivors of domestic violence in Hampshire. The number is 02394 216816 and runs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. For more information about Aurora, visit their website, Facebook and Twitter. You can email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can also find out more about Aurora’s work and the impact the Coronavirus has had on their organisation and the way they work in our weekly series of articles with the charity.
The Cantando FVC Choir are aiming to do a new video each week as part of their ongoing fundraiser for Aurora New Dawn. This week, the choir are singing The Chain. Donate to the Cantando FVC Choir fundraiser here, or share on your social media to help spread the word. Find out more about the Cantando FVC over on their Facebook page.
Image by Aurora New Dawn