It is with great sadness that Aurora Helpline and Referral Service ended on the 31st March 2018, after 6 years of operation. I have been so proud to be the manager of this service since its inception, and along with the CEO of Aurora New Dawn, I feel we created a service that offered a unique addition to both Aurora services and the other domestic abuse support services offered across the county. I wanted to take time to write this blog to share my experience and to thank everyone who has been involved.
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 Out of Hours specialist service. This meant that the only option that survivors had, if they needed support during the night or over the weekend, was to call the police or a national helpline service. Not all survivors want police support at this time and whilst we appreciate and respect the work of the national support helplines, we wanted to offer a bespoke, localised triage option for survivors.
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 at 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.
With this in mind the Aurora Helpline and Referral Service was ‘born’. At the time, it was an innovative service that offered a real opportunity for survivors to receive early support at a time when they needed it most and offered early access to specialist services providing a wraparound support for them. The underlying premise 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 the criminal justice system (Domestic Violence Matters, 2005). This engages people quickly, improves their safety and reduces the likelihood of future incidents.
Aurora supports both female and male survivors of domestic abuse but as per national and global statistics the overwhelming majority of survivors that came through our helpline were female, 96% and 89% of alleged perpetrators were male. These figures support and evidence the fact 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 with two women still being murdered due to male violence every three days in England and Wales (ONS, 2017)
Although I managed the service it was the volunteers that enabled every shift to happen every year even at Christmas and bank holidays since August 2012. Over that time, the helpline has been supported by 88 volunteers offering a service to 2460 clients. The volunteers offered their services for free and came from all walks of life. We have had volunteers from the University of Portsmouth, survivors of domestic abuse, health care professionals and community members who wanted to give something back. One thing all our volunteers have in common is that they care deeply about the survivors, are passionate about the work Aurora delivers, keeping the feminist ethos and model central to their work, and they are empathetic to our survivors’ experiences whatever stage of their journey they are on. They want to help and support whether that is a listening ear, safety information or support to engage in the criminal justice system. Our amazing volunteers have heard some very harrowing stories and yet they have dealt with all situations with professionalism in a person-centred way.
What our volunteers say:
“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.”
“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.”
Survivor’s voice is a central part of all our service provision and we believe in capturing their experience to ensure our services are working for them, as such we undertake evaluations with all survivors. For the period of 2017 to 2018 completion of qualitative evaluations with clients using the helpline evidenced 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 in line with new contracts and commissioning that has come into place, some of which Aurora has been lucky enough to be involved in. For the past three years the service has been operating for Portsmouth City only and the core premise of our Helpline was, and remained, the safety of the survivors, how best we can support them and an easy access referral route for survivors and professionals out of hours. The overwhelming majority, 86%, of our referrals came from the 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 six years. I feel huge sadness at the loss of this service but I equally feel very privileged and proud to have been part of such a simple process that engaged so many women at a point where they were ready to talk to us.
I wish to thank the volunteers for their dedication and unyielding support, the partner agencies who referred to us and to the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner for funding the service. Most importantly I want to extend a MASSIVE thank you to all our 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 met and they always remind me that – Everyone is entitled to live a life free from violence and abuse.
I want to honour the survivors who trusted us and give the final words to 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 [volunteer] the best rating – very high level.”
“They believed me and that is all I needed.”
Aurora – Community Projects Manager
Evaluation of Domestic Violence Matters; Dr. Liz Kelly et all 2011 and Home Office Research Study 290 Marianne Hester and Nicole Westmarland, University of Sunderland 2005.
Crown Prosecution Service, Violence against Women and Girls Crime Report, 2014–2015
Office for National Statistics, Crime Statistics, Focus on Violent Crime and Sexual Offences, Year ending March 2016, Chapter 2: Homicide (Published online: Office for National Statistics, 2017)