Staff in Unity Sexual Health clinics in Bristol and South Gloucestershire are being trained to spot signs of domestic abuse and sexual violence to support survivors through a new service launching today (19 October).
The pilot project ADViSE (Assessing for Domestic Violence and Abuse in Sexual Health Environments) aims to help people affected by both domestic abuse and sexual violence to confidentially disclose their experiences with staff, who can then offer referrals for specialist support. Developed by IRISi, a not-for-profit social enterprise, ADViSE is jointly commissioned by Bristol City and South Gloucestershire councils and is now being delivered in collaboration with Next Link Plus (Bristol) and Next Link (South Gloucestershire), who operate local domestic abuse support services.
This summer, over 40 sexual health clinic staff from across Bristol and South Gloucestershire began their training with the local ADViSE team and Next Link on how to better identify, respond, and refer patients who have experienced domestic abuse and sexual violence. All staff, from nurses and doctors to chaperones, receptionists and medical secretaries are key to the success of the intervention and are being trained.
In Manchester, where ADViSE is already running, a service user said: “It has been nice to have someone I can speak to who I have been able to trust, someone who has been able to tell me that it has not been my fault and I’m not going mad, but it was my ex’s behaviour that was wrong and was making me feel that way. I’m now better able to understand how much they controlled and abused me.”
Councillor Ellie King, Cabinet Member for Public Health and Communities at Bristol City Council, said: “Sadly too many people, of all genders and sexualities, are still living with domestic abuse and sexual violence for far too long. This new service is being launched in response to the recommendations of Bristol’s Mayoral Commission on Domestic Abuse and feedback from survivors who raised the need to create more opportunities to disclose when things aren’t right.
“The anonymity offered by sexual health services will hopefully encourage those affected by domestic abuse and sexual violence to come forward.”
Councillor Rachael Hunt, Cabinet Member for Communities at South Gloucestershire Council and Chair of the Domestic Abuse Strategic Partnership, said: “We know the devastating impact domestic violence and abuse has on the lives of adults and children and it’s so important that we are supporting the fantastic work carried out by individuals and organisations to make victims safe and to help them recover.
“This new service meets one of the key objectives in South Gloucestershire Council’s Domestic Violence and Abuse Strategy to better meet the changing needs of different groups and people, by driving real action and results. Through training those already well placed to spot the signs of domestic violence and abuse, we can make things that little bit easier for victims to report their abuse and get the help and support they need.”
Dr Rae Adams, from Unity Sexual Health and one of the ADViSE Clinical Leads for this pilot, said: “As a clinician, the ADViSE project is wonderful because it breaks down barriers to accessing this help, by providing rapid referral to trained professionals who can be really flexible with when, where and why they see a client. That’s great for people who are feeling overwhelmed, or who feel like they don’t know where to go to get the support they need.
“ADViSE at Unity will see you whether abuse happened today or 20 years ago, whether you feel sure of your next steps, or have no idea. ADViSE can work with people of any gender, and has links to LGBTQ+ specialists. Unity will also be the first ADViSE service to work with people who are pregnant. Sadly, violence and abuse can increase during pregnancy, and this is something we’re really proud to be addressing.”
Research has found that women affected by domestic abuse and sexual violence are three times more likely to have gynaecological and sexual health problems.* 47 per cent of women attending sexual health services will have experienced domestic abuse and sexual violence at some point in their lives**.
The new ADViSE programme originates from a successful, evidence-based 12-week pilot that provided ADViSE training for staff in two sexual health clinic sites in Bristol and Tower Hamlets in 2014. Sarah O’Leary, CEO of Next Link, said: “Having taken part in the 2014 pilot, and building on the success of Next Link’s GP IRIS Programme in Bristol and South Gloucestershire, we were delighted to be awarded funding to deliver the ADViSE intervention.
“For many survivors, seeing a sexual health clinician is the only place they can speak to someone anonymously and where the perpetrator isn’t present. We know from experience the presence of our services has value over and above the direct support it provides to victims; professionals are more likely to identify abuse earlier, and confidently refer patients on for specialist support in both our Next Link domestic abuse and Safe Link sexual violence support services. The sharing of expertise between Next Link and sexual health practitioners will encourage a more holistic response, meaning the most vulnerable victims that are furthest away from services can get the support they need to live safer and healthier lives they deserve.”
Charlotte Chappell, ADViSE Lead and Senior Regional Manager at IRISi, said: “The ADViSE programme provides clinicians with a simple referral pathway to specialist services. It builds on the successful evidence-based model of our flagship nationwide IRIS programme in primary care. IRISi’s vision is a world in which gender-based violence is consistently recognised and addressed as a health issue, and our mission is to improve the healthcare response to gender-based violence through health and specialist services working together. This programme, these partnerships and the people involved in this project here in Bristol and South Glos are working to ensure these goals are met and more survivors than ever before are consistently supported”.
If you, or somebody you know is a victim of domestic abuse or sexual violence, please report it through one of the services listed on Bristol City Council’s or South Gloucestershire Council’s website. The police should be called if anyone is in immediate danger.
Next Link Plus can give help and support to those who have experienced domestic or sexual abuse:
- call: 0800 4700 280
- email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- online live chat via their website.
*World Health Organisation, Understanding and addressing violence against women, 2012.
**Loke WC, Torres C, Bacchus L, et al.., Domestic violence in a genitourinary medicine setting–an anonymous prevalence study in women. Int J STD AIDS 2008;19:747–51. 10.1258/ijsa.2008.008117 [PubMed] [CrossRef] [Google Scholar]