Domestic abuse is not easy to discuss. The army lifestyle can affect families seeking support because there’s often a fear that it will impact on their housing, their support networks, their entitlement to remain in the UK, their employment and their financial dependence on their serving partner. Our health & additional needs specialist, Karen Ross, has been exploring who you should talk to, how can you keep safe and what specific support is available…
I’m a victim of a violent domestic incident, what should I do?
If you are in immediate danger or your life is being threatened, you should call 999. All domestic abuse calls are considered high priority. The MOD police or RMP may also attend if you are living in Service Family Accommodation (SFA).
What will the army do?
Many victims are reluctant to report abuse because of the potential impact on the perpetrator’s career and therefore family. Be reassured that command follows clear guidance and any decisions about your quarter, children’s education, finances or employment will be made with the appropriate agencies there to support you.
The MOD takes domestic abuse very seriously and does not condone any form of domestic abuse. It set up a working group and in 2018 published a domestic abuse strategy ‘No Defence for Abuse’. Here at AFF, we have representation in this working group, which ensures that we are kept well informed on policy and the specific support available.
My partner is becoming very aggressive and controlling, what should I do?
Coercive, controlling and threatening behaviour is a crime. You can seek support from the Army Welfare Service (AWS). Its staff support victims regardless of rank, gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation. They understand the complexity of domestic abuse, its often-hidden impacts and the unique difficulties that military life creates for those who want to seek help. You may feel apprehensive or even ashamed about seeking assistance but AWS will always work collaboratively and confidentially with you to achieve safety.
If there’s no immediate danger but you are concerned for your safety, call 101 and ask for the police safeguarding team that deals with domestic abuse – this option should be considered if you have children.
I want to leave an abusive relationship, what are the first steps?
This is one of the most difficult decisions to make, particularly if you have children. The most vulnerable and volatile time in an abusive relationship is around separation, therefore additional services should be considered to ensure the safety of the adult wishing to leave the relationship.
If it has been disclosed to AWS that domestic abuse has occurred in a household where there are children, they have a professional and legal obligation to share information to safeguard you. AWS will discuss options with you around keeping safe, whether you wish to remain in the relationship or not. If you want to separate, safety will be a key consideration.
Stepping Stones Homes exist for women and children with a military connection who need temporary accommodation, whether as a result of homelessness, marital breakdown, moving house or compassionate reasons. The two homes offer a safe environment and staff are trained to support families with welfare, finance, immigration and emotional issues. Referrals and enquiries can be through unit welfare teams, AWS, SSAFA caseworkers or direct via SSAFA. The Services Cotswold Centre is also available to those needing temporary accommodation.
I think my neighbour is a victim of domestic abuse, what should I do?
If you think they may be in immediate danger or there’s a threat to life you must call 999. If not, they should be encouraged to seek help through any of the organisations listed right. If you’re concerned about the wellbeing of a child, you have a duty to report your concerns to Children’s Services or AWS.
Showing that you care is important and you could help by offering someone a safe place to come to use the internet or telephone and help them to contact organisations that can provide support.
I am a spouse of a F&C soldier who is abusing me, is there any specific support available?
Often spouses of F&C soldiers struggle with the immigration and practical issues created by leaving their abusive partner because if the spouse does not have indefinite leave then their visa is only valid if the marriage is subsisting.
AFF offers a special service funded by Lloyd’s Patriotic Fund for F&C victims of abuse who need help with their visas to remain. AFF can provide practical one-to-one support to F&C families dealing with domestic abuse in the UK or overseas. AFF’s F&C specialist will do all the substantive work required to make applications, including collating all evidence, completing forms and writing letters of representation. There’s further information at aff.org.uk. You can also contact us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org but we would prefer that you are referred to us via your local AWS or SSAFA caseworker.
I am living overseas, so what support is available to me?
It can be more difficult to seek support, particularly when you are away from close friends and family. There are organisations that can provide you with help, listed in the worldwide support section of the ‘Domestic abuse: guidance and support for the Armed Forces community’ webpage at gov.uk
King’s Centre for Military Health Research has been carrying out a research project into domestic violence and abuse among military spouses and partners, which is due to be published later this year.
Bristol University and the Forces in Mind Trust have also recently published their report (Domestic Violence and Abuse in Military Families: Improving Signposting to Specialist Support). Further information on these research projects can be found online.