A father was forced to sleep in a parking lot after his abusive girlfriend installed a tracker on his cell phone and stole his bank cards.
Stephen – who requested that his real name not be revealed – became homeless when the Covid lockdown began when he left his four-year-old partner.
But he struggled to find support as a male victim of domestic violence.
READ MORE:Domestic violence cases in Manchester at ‘record high’, city support services warn
âThere was nothing at all there,â he said. “Nothing for guys. Nothing on the mental side. Just the physical.”
Months later, Wigan’s counsel turned to him and others who had experienced abuse as they prepared to launch a new service.
Domestic violence is not just about physical violence – and anyone can be a victim.
This is the simple message of the campaign created with the help of survivors of domestic violence that has helped thousands of people over the past 12 months.
A new helpline launched in Wigan last year has received nearly 5,000 calls to date, offering support to victims, affected relatives and even professionals.
People with direct experience of domestic violence have helped shape the service which aims to attract those who might not recognize “red flags”.
Intensity, jealousy, control, criticism, blame and gaslighting are all signs of domestic violence – and Stephen says he recognized them “from the start.”
Although physical violence played a role in his abusive relationship, he says being hit by his ex-partner didn’t hurt him.
âIt was control,â he explained.
She took his bank cards from him and installed a tracker on his cell phone – so he would just leave it at home, which means he can’t make calls.
But with a baby on the way, he felt he couldn’t leave, fearing he would never see his children.
âWhat kept me from reaching out was that I had children,â he said. âI didn’t know how it would affect them.
“What if I call the police?” Would social workers be involved?
“When you have children, you fear that you will never see your children again.”
And then one day, coming home from work, she found Stephen asleep on the couch and got “extremely angry” – so he just put his things away and left.
With nowhere to go, he found himself sleeping in a parking lot during the Covid lockdown after leaving his four-year-old partner to become homeless.
Stephen searched the internet for someone to talk to, but all he could find was Women’s Aid.
âI wouldn’t call a women’s helpline,â he said.
After contacting Citizens’ Advice, he was put in touch with Wigan City Council who – although concerned about the pandemic – found him a room.
However, the support he received at this point, he said, was minimal.
Later that year, the local authority will launch a new domestic violence service with a helpline for victims, friends, family and professionals seeking advice.
And the board has turned to people like Stephen for comment on the campaign.
Business manager Kieran Davies, who helped design the council’s domestic violence and sexual violence service, presented the ideas to the focus group.
“The ideas that the victims who experienced were very different,” he said.
As soon as the survivors saw photos of black-eyed people, it was “obvious” that they could not identify themselves, according to council staff at the meeting.
They were told that the artwork associated with the campaign should feature the hidden messages of control and abuse that many victims would recognize.
Genuine examples of abusive texting have been used in advertisements, and Stephen has re-enacted conversations he had with his ex-partner for the radio.
The website was designed with the aim of appealing to all genres – and it even has an “escape button” that immediately takes you to another website.
Gemma Braithwaite, director of the Wigan Domestic Violence Department, said that although women are disproportionately affected by domestic violence, the law is “usually” on their side – another reason men often don’t come forward. not.
“Pride” can prevent older people in particular from coming forward, she said.
But the service is not only intended for victims of domestic violence themselves – it is also available to affected relatives, friends and family members.
Jo is a local democracy reporter covering councils, the NHS and other public services in Manchester and Greater Manchester.
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Seven reviews of domestic homicides in recent years have revealed that families and friends suspected abuse was taking place, but were unsure of who to talk to.
Gemma said the domestic violence service encourages victims to come forward, but if this is not appropriate, they can instead speak to their affected loved ones.
She said: âHistorically, people thought domestic violence was a private matter.
âFamily and friends are worried that if they ask the victim about this, they’ll actually push her further. It’s a great balance.
âFriends and family can be a massive protective filter.
“Sometimes those affected are afraid. But if that person doesn’t feel ready to speak up, they won’t.”
The helpline, a local number in Wigan, is made up of domestic violence workers from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays with walk-in sessions held throughout the borough.
About 66pc of helpline callers are victims, while 6pc are third parties and the rest of the calls – around 28pc – are from affected professionals.
The service couldn’t be more accessible, Gemma proudly proclaims, saying that if staff don’t have the answer, they can likely find someone who has.
“But we’ll never tell anyone what to do,” she added. “We give them options and choices. We try to give them the control they lost in an abusive relationship.”
Breaking a “life of beliefs” can be an impossible task – which is why the service has also started to hold annual “age appropriate” sessions at schools in Wigan.
So far, 4,500 children have received consent and online safety education.
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It’s a chance to challenge beliefs, such as gender role stereotypes, that can put them at risk for domestic violence decades later.
âIt’s not just a helpline,â she said. âWe really want to work within the community to develop this early awareness.
“We want to reduce the stigma surrounding domestic violence and the only way to do that is to talk more about it.
âWhether they like it or not, everyone will know someone who is affected by domestic violence.
âYou could be sitting in a room and there is an abuser right next to you.
“They’re walking around our inner cities right now, or sitting in this building, and they’re thinking, ‘I don’t know what to do. There’s nowhere to go.'”
Union adviser Paula Wakefield, who is the senior cabinet member for equality and domestic violence, said the campaign was about victims.
“We know that domestic violence can be a wide range of behaviors that can make victims feel controlled, intimidated and isolated,” she said.
âOur priority is to ensure that everyone, regardless of their circumstances, can access the right help and support and we are very grateful to the courageous victims who played such an important role in shaping the campaign.
âDomestic Violence Awareness Month was a time for us to reflect on the great strides we have made since the launch of Love Is Not Abuse earlier this year.
“But we also know there is always more to do and we can’t wait to see how that progresses in its next steps.”
To contact Wigan Borough Domestic Abuse Service, call 01942 311365 or visit www.wigan.gov.uk/domesticabuse. The hotline is open to everyone.
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