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Domestic Abuse – Advice for Professionals

When working with victims of domestic violence and abuse, the first key principle to follow is to enquire safely about violence or abuse.

Safe enquiry means ensuring the potential perpetrator is not and will not easily become aware of the enquiry. It is a cornerstone of best practice in domestic abuse.

Research has shown that incidence of violence and levels of harm increase when a perpetrator’s control is being challenged. It is very important that the perpetrator does not learn about any disclosure or plans being made by the person at risk by accident or without the knowledge of the person at risk.

Best practice in undertaking safe enquiry: To ensure safety and confidentiality:

  • always ensure you are alone with the person before enquiring into possible abuse – never ask in front of a partner, friend or child • make sure that you can’t be interrupted, and that you – and the person – have sufficient time • only use professional interpreters
  • do not pursue an enquiry if the person lacks capacity to consent to the interview unless you have already arranged an advocate
  • document the person’s response (but not in client/patient held records or organisational systems to which the perpetrator may have access).

To give opportunities to disclose abuse: Explain your reasons for enquiring into domestic violence or abuse, for example:

  • as we know domestic abuse is common and affects many people; we ask everyone about it when we observe possible indicators of abuse
  • domestic abuse isn’t just about physical violence. It can be financial, sexual or emotional, and includes forced marriage.

Explain the limits of your confidentiality, for example:

  • the only time I would tell anyone anything you told me would be if a child was in danger, if another adult was in serious danger or if a crime may have been committed. Even then, I would discuss it with you first if I could and I would do everything I could to support you.

Ask direct questions about their circumstances, for example:

  • as anyone close to you made you feel frightened?
  • does anyone close to you bully you, control you or force you into things?
  • has anyone close to you ever hurt you physically, such as hit you, pushed you, slapped you, choked you, or threatened you in any way?

Ask additional direct questions to adults with care and support needs, for example:

  • has anyone prevented you from getting, food, clothes, medication, glasses, hearing aids or medical care?
  • has anyone prevented you from being with the people you want to be with?
  • has anyone tried to force you to sign papers against your will?
  • have you been upset because someone talked to you in a way that made you feel ashamed or threatened?
  • has anyone taken money belonging to you?

When abuse is disclosed or identified:

  • follow local procedures for assessment, referral and safety planning.

For further guidance on dealing with concerns of domestic abuse in your role, please refer to this guide.