Launch of Refuge and University of Warwick study into suicidality and domestic violence


‘Suicide must not appear to be the only escape for some victims of abuse’

There must be greater recognition of the risk of suicide among victims of domestic abuse and increased provision of specialist services for survivors and their children, urges Refuge, the national domestic violence charity.

In one of the largest studies of its kind, and the first in the UK, staff from Refuge and the University of Warwick looked at the experiences of more than 3,500 of Refuge’s clients with the aim of informing policy and practice in relation to victims of abuse who are at an increased risk of suicide.

The findings show that:

  • 83% of clients came to Refuge’s services feeling despairing or hopeless – a key determinant for suicidality
  • At least 24% had felt suicidal at one time or another; 18% had made plans to end their life; 3% had made a suicide attempt
  • 49% of the suicidal group scored within the ‘severe’ range on a measure of psychological distress

The level of support for survivors from professionals and external agencies was seen as crucial; the research found that long delays in obtaining support had the potential to exacerbate difficulties, victims needed adequate time to disclose the full impact of their abuse and a suitable environment to ‘tell their story’ at their own pace. The report calls for a commitment to sufficient, specialist services, both outreach and refuge, for the survivors of abuse.

While having children was found to be a protective factor for victims of abuse, being childless was a risk. Although the research does not explore the impact of having a suicidal parent, the authors recognise the harm that living with domestic abuse can have upon children, particularly when the abused parent is suicidal. The authors highlight the need for specialist services for children impacted by domestic violence, especially those bereaved in this context.

Refuge offers specialist support services to men, women and children experiencing abuse and believes all are entitled to a compassionate and appropriate response, particularly those who are so distressed that they have considered suicide.

However, the gender split in Refuge’s sample broadly reflected national and international trends in domestic abuse perpetration and victimisation – a phenomenon in which women are overwhelmingly the victims and males the perpetrators. As such, the researchers appeal to all agencies to recognise domestic abuse as a gendered issue and a gendered crime.

As discussions take place around the forthcoming Domestic Abuse Bill, on which the current Government has staked its legacy, they highlight this opportunity – and the need – for wide-scale engagement and educational efforts to eradicate the gender inequality and sexism that underpin violence against women and girls.

View the report here

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