Your organisation may already have policies and procedures in place about domestic abuse and/or sexual violence so it’s important to follow those if they exist. These should include informing your line manager or a designated officer within your organisation about your concerns.

Again, depending on the organisation you work for you may or may not be familiar with the term ‘safeguarding’. Safeguarding means ‘to protect from harm’ and is often used when talking about children or vulnerable adults. Domestic abuse and sexual violence are safeguarding issues due to the level of risk that a victim and a victim’s family may face. Abuse can range in severity but can include brutal violence and even homicide.

If you are working with someone and you suspect or know that they are being abused now or in the past there are things you can do to support them. The following information is advice and your own organisation’s policy, processes and guidance on abuse and violence must always take precedence. Please remember that the safety of the victim and their family must always be put first.

Asking the question

People may be put off by the word 'abuse' and may not use that word themselves to describe behaviours that they are experiencing.   Depending on your relationship with the person, if you suspect that something is wrong you could start by simply asking them ‘are you ok?’. Depending on what you do and who you work for, your organisation might have different ways of asking. Some people might ask ‘how safe do you feel in your relationship?’.  

Whatever words you use to ask, it’s important to do so in a safe and private environment where the person can speak freely and feel comfortable, without the abuser present.

If you work in the health service, local government or another type of organisation you may have a policy on ‘routine enquiry’. Routine enquiry is a term used to describe asking all service users about their experience of domestic and sexual violence. No signs of abuse or suspicions of abuse are needed as routine enquiry involves asking everyone.  This can help making the enquiry easier because you can refer to it as just that - a question that everyone is asked.  

Abuse and sexual violence can happen to everyone but in the majority of reported cases victims are women. It would be helpful if everyone is asked about their relationships regardless of how they identify, but to date in many organisations routine enquiry has been used to ‘screen’ women and girls.

It is important not to pressure someone to answer in any way, but explain to them that they can approach you at any time if they’d like to talk about something. It can be very difficult and upsetting for someone to talk about their experience so it’s important to be patient.

More information can be found on the Broaching the Subject page.

This BBC article (Warning: article describes actual cases of sexual assault and rape) was published in July 2020 when the defence of 'rough sex' was deemed to be no longer admissible in Court in England and Wales.  Anyone who has experienced rape or sexual assault should be encouraged to report it to the police or, at the very least, be supported to contact one of the specialist support services such as SARC or Devon Rape Crisis and Sexual Abuse Services who can provide appropriate help and advice.