The ‘4 Rs’ can help us to support victims of domestic abuse – we should all know them

When someone admits to being a victim of domestic abuse it ­empowers friends, ­colleagues and neighbours to help that person.

Researchers from University College London and charity SafeLives looked at findings of 11 studies from around the world to examine if domestic abuse training for colleagues, neighbours and faith leaders was effective.

They concluded that educational sessions tailored specifically to particular groups improved awareness and understanding of the dangers.

With education, people know how to respond and are motivated to do so, especially in the short term. This makes it more probable they’ll go out of their way to support people in abusive relationships.

However, a shortcoming of the study was that it didn’t explore the kind of support that might be given and whether it would be viewed as helpful by people suffering abuse.

Lead author Dr Karen Schucan Bird, of UCL’s Faculty of Education and Society, said: “For people living with domestic abuse, empathetic and helpful responses from friends, colleagues and neighbours are vital.

“These responses can affect individuals’ safety as well as their wellbeing, mental health and decision to seek further help. To respond positively to disclosures of abuse, it is important to listen with empathy, create a space where people can explain their situation and experiences without being judged, and to know about helplines and local organisations that can provide support.”

Based on research, Dr Schucan Bird and SafeLives identified four steps for responding positively in the form of “four Rs”:

Recognise : Become aware of the signs of domestic abuse.

Respond : Listen without judgment and show empathy.

Reassure : Convey belief and validate the experiences of the person.

React : Find out about local sources of support and offer to help.

The training ranged from one-hour online presentations to more in-depth courses taking place over several days.

Both focused on similar subjects: basic information on risk factors and warning signs of abuse, the impacts on victim-survivors, businesses and wider community, and the support needs of victim-survivors.

The training fulfilled the three essential conditions for behaviour change – being able to spot warning signs of domestic abuse, increased opportunities to provide support, and understanding the devastating impact that domestic abuse could have.

All increased the motivation to help and to use helplines and domestic abuse charities.