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Supporting a client who is experiencing domestic abuse or sexual violence

Supporting a client who is experiencing domestic abuse or sexual violence

If you are supporting someone who has experienced domestic abuse or sexual violence there are specialist services which can help.

If a client discloses that they are experiencing abuse acknowledge their bravery and let them know you believe them. Remember how hard it must be to have told you what they have. Do all you can to offer support and choices to ensure the client knows they’ve done the right thing.  

Don’t judge, don’t blame and treat it seriously.


  • Does your client need urgent medical attention?
  • Are they currently in danger? 
  • Will they be in danger when they leave you?  

If the answer to any of the above is ‘yes’, deal with this first.

If you are speaking on the telephone, ask closed questions which only require a yes or no answer - such as ‘are you safe right now?’, ‘is anyone there listening to this conversation?’, ‘do you need me to call for police assistance or an ambulance’?

If the answers to the above are no, you need to say something supportive, that acknowledges the disclosure and communicates your interest. For example, you could say ‘Thank you for telling me that; it must have taken a lot of courage’.

Other key messages include:

  • I believe you
  • what you have described is not uncommon – or a similar statement which communicates to the survivor that they are not alone. It can be useful to know a few statistics, e.g. 1 in 4 women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime
  • you are not to blame for the violence or abuse – hold the perpetrator accountable for their behaviour. No one deserves to be abused. The use of violence is not an appropriate way to communicate within a relationship. Whatever 'justifications' are given for 'provocation' of violence, there are more effective and acceptable ways to resolve problems
  • your safety and wellbeing is my priority – highlight that the survivor might be at risk
  • you have the right to be safe and get support – all survivors have the right and deserve to be safe
  • you have the right to feel the way you do and to talk about it
  • you are the expert on what you need and what should happen next
  • there is help available: if appropriate give information about options (see offer resources below)
  • for many survivors, just having someone listen to them is all they need at the point of first disclosing. This can be reassuring for professionals who may not feel they are in a position to offer high quality, specialist interventions that perfectly match survivors’ needs. We can all, however, at the very least make a personal and professional commitment to listen to survivors and children and not to deny or minimise their experiences.  

It is highly likely that the key concerns of your client will focus on:

  • being believed, not  blamed or stigmatised
  • getting help. They probably told you about their experience because they want something to change. This should happen at their pace but they may need help around safety, housing, their children or money
  • confidentiality. This is likely to relate to you alerting the abuser that your client has disclosed as well as fears of Social Services / police involvement without their consent so explain the limits of your confidentiality policy as soon as you can. It is important that your client understands when and why you may need to involve other organisations before they begin sharing their story.

Build rapport

  • Be polite and empathic.
  • Use active listening (Nod your head, hold some eye contact).
  • Don’t tell them what to do.
  • Let them know they are doing the right thing by telling you. 
  • Let them know you are taking them seriously.
  • Do not act shocked or appear as if you do not believe them.  

Identify risk

You should complete the DASH Risk Identification Checklist (External link) or refer your client to someone who is trained to complete this.

Offer resources

  • If after assessing risk your client if assessed as ‘high risk’, refer to your local Multi Agency Risk Assessment Conference (MARAC) or, your local Independent Domestic Violence Advisor (IDVAs) or you local Independent Sexual Violence Advisor (ISVA).
  • Refer to specialist services such as the Wales Live Fear Free Helpline on 0808 80 10 800 or other specialist services. Many of those in Wales are listed in our service directory.
  • Where relevant, refer to your Children’s Safeguarding Lead.
  • The key issues for survivors are most commonly safety and protection, housing, money and children. If you are unable to provide them with the relevant information, ensure they are given contact details for where to find the answers.
  • Ensure you have recorded the conversation carefully and check with your line manager you have done all you should.
    Always remember that for those thinking about separating from their abusers, leaving is very dangerous so ensure expert advice is accessed.

It is not only victims of violence and abuse who can be traumatised by their experience. Those who help them can experience difficult reactions too. This is known as vicarious trauma. You may also need to undertake or understand more about undertaking a risk and needs assessment. You may also need to consider safety planning with your client.

Supporting a transgender person suffering with Domestic Abuse

A transgender woman who seeks help because of domestic violence is not in need of services and support from a service that supports male survivors of domestic violence. They need to be able to access services that understand and support female survivors.

They should be treated in the same manner as anyone else seeking support but it may be helpful to remember to:

  • understand that a person’s transgender identity is not their presenting issue when they come to your service
  • use pronouns and language appropriate to the identified gender of the client
  • acknowledge and validate the persons discomfort at disclosing personal information, particularly as the person is waiting for you to respond negatively to their disclosure of gender diversity. Disclosing someone’s transgender status to another person without their consent is a breach of the Gender Recognition Act (External link).

Available Guidance and information for all professionals

The Welsh Government funds the Live Fear Free Helpline which you can phone 24/7 for advice on 0808 80 10 800. There are also specialist organisations, nationally and locally, able to advise you and support victims and survivors.

Training through the National Training Framework will also help you understand more about these issues.

Sector Specific Guidance


Nice have produced:

Safe Lives also produce resources for professionals/practitioners (External link) in the health sector including guidance for general practices and resources for GPs.


‘Keeping learners safe Guidance’ (External link) published by the Welsh Government in January 2015 includes advice on domestic abuse and sexual violence and how education services should contribute to multi-agency safeguarding arrangements. You should refer to this and raise any questions with your safeguarding lead or your designated senior person if you are in a school.

Policies & Guidance

Find relevant guidance and information on the VAWDASV Act.

Find out more


Related links

Domestic abuse is the use of control by one person over another in an intimate or close family relationship; the abuse can be sexual, physical, financial, emotional or psychological.
Domestic abuse can happen to anyone; there are survivors amongst every group or type of person you can think of.
Sexual violence is any sexual act or activity which is unwanted and which has not been consented to. Sexual violence can affect anyone, at any stage of their lives.
Sexual assault is any form of sexual act which is inflicted on someone without their consent.
A Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC) is a special facility where recent victims of rape or sexual assault can receive immediate help and support.

About Live Fear Free

Live Fear Free is a Welsh Government website, providing information and advice for those suffering with violence against women, domestic abuse and sexual violence.

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