A Day in the Life of a Penny Appeal Domestic Abuse Helpline Practitioner
Written by Hinna Zafar, Domestic Abuse Services Coordinator for Penny Appeal
If you are affected by any of the issues in this article, please do call our Domestic Abuse Helpline or find out more here. Penny Appeal’s helpline and webchat are open 10am to 10pm, 7 days a week, offering free, anonymous support.
9:45am: All is calm in the Helpline Office. We start the day by taking note of the calls from the night before, checking the diary for any important messages from our fellow colleagues and reading the news to keep up to date with current domestic abuse cases. There is a news story about a woman who was known as being at high-risk of abuse and the police were fully aware of her situation. The perpetrator was released on bail, to a house just eight doors away from the woman’s house. He broke the terms of his bail and then murdered the woman, before killing himself. The news was horrifying, and we took time to discuss the implications of this, critically assessing the lack of safeguarding measures in place.
10:00am: The phone lines are now live and we wait in anticipation of the first phone call. We muse that it might be a quiet day, however, as soon as the words leave our lips the phone begins to ring and we jump for our headphones. We compose ourselves and answer the phone within the obligatory three rings, “Good morning, Domestic Abuse Helpline by Penny Appeal, how can I help you today?”
The first call of the day is from a mother speaking on behalf of her daughter, who is in an abusive relationship. She asks us questions about the helpline and enquires about the services we provide. We discuss the nature of her daughter’s relationship and the mother shares that it is both physically and emotionally abusive. We support her by providing tips on how she can begin a conversation with her daughter without alienating her, and signpost her to local counselling services that both she and her daughter can access. The call lasts approximately 15 minutes.
10:20am: Before we can make a note on the database, another call comes through. This time it is a female caller who is terrified that she’s going to lose her children. She has been suffering from abuse but is worried that if she reports it to the police they will take her children away from her. Her partner is both verbally and physically abusive towards her, and her children witness the abuse on a daily basis. She is desperate for some advice on where to turn. We begin by dispelling a couple of misconceptions regarding her fears of speaking with Social Services, and support and empower her to do what’s right for her and her children. We give her the time and the space she needs to express her feelings and she becomes tearful as she explores her emotions with us. She ends the call by expressing her gratitude for our non-judgemental stance and says that she feels very reassured following our conversation.
12:30pm: The afternoon passes with a steady stream of calls. An employer wanting to discuss the changed behaviour of an employee, who has started coming to work with bruises covering her arms. A mother who called the police after a violent incident with her partner, before subsequently dropping the charges, only to receive continuous threats and harassment from him. A young Pakistani female wishing to discuss her options, as her husband of one year has become physically abusive after being emotionally abusive for the majority of their marriage.
Web chats also come steadily throughout the day. One is a male looking for information regarding his same-sex relationship. His partner was initially caring and kind, until three months ago when he completely changed. The writer shared his experiences of his partner’s manipulative and controlling behaviour, expressing that he was tired of feeling like the cause. His relationship has had an enormous impact on his mental health and he has turned to alcohol as a means of escape. We offered the writer a safe space to discuss his recent addiction to alcohol and shared some information on where he can find some help. We listened to him and empowered him to leave behind his feelings of guilt and to make decisions free of this burden. He ended the web chat feeling supported and said that he would reach out again should anything else happen.
7:00pm: It is now the evening, but the calls continue to come in. The phone rings and as we answer, we are met with quiet sobbing. We know that there is a caller on the line and we acknowledge their presence, recommending that they take the time they need and to only share when they feel ready. The caller begins slowly, unsure whether she has contacted the right place and sharing that she just needs someone to talk to. The call lasts for thirty minutes, during which the caller opens up about how her partner constantly blames his own behaviour on her, accusing her of being rude, telling her that she is a bad mother and not the wife he wants her to be. Our role is to provide a space for our callers, to listen to them and support them in exploring issues in the ways that they feel is best for them. The caller leads, we follow. This call began with panic, but as time goes by the callers tone shifts, she grows calmer, her breathing no longer erratic. As the call comes to an end, she says that we’ve understood exactly what she’s going through and thanks us for being so helpful. As always, we end the call with ‘We’re open 10am to 10pm, 7 days a week, feel free to call back whenever you feel you need to.’
The helpline often echoes characteristics of domestic abuse: calls are diverse, individual and bespoke. We never really know what we’re going to get and cannot predict the depth of the call until we answer and dive right in. Regardless of the inconsistencies and differences, our team’s support and approach is a constant; listen, inform, signpost. The role is as rewarding as it is challenging. Every day is a chance to make a small difference to someone’s life.
SUNDAY 4 AUG 2019