How to tackle the postcode lottery for LGBT+ domestic abuse survivors

As we mark LGBT History Month, we wanted to look at Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans (LGBT+) domestic abuse survivors and services. Our focus is on the challenges that victims can face; what has been achieved so far to improve services for survivors and what we think needs to be achieved in the future especially when it comes commissioning services.  

“LGBT+ victims and survivors are likely to experience domestic abuse at a prevalence at least comparable to, and perhaps higher than, heterosexual women. Additionally, while LGBT+ people can face similar forms of domestic abuse, they can also face abuse specifically related to their sexual orientation or gender identity. The same can be said of the barriers to help and support.

Despite these levels of need, a year ago, we published a report that found there was a huge lack of specialist support for LGBT+ victims and survivors, despite knowing that ‘specialist ‘by and for’ services – which are rooted in the communities they serve – are best placed to provide the bespoke and specialist support that marginalised and minoritized victims and survivors need. Not only that, but there was also a postcode lottery. Some key findings were that there were only 3.5 full time specialist frontline domestic abuse support workers for LGBT+ victims in England and Wales, while some areas had no funded LGBT+ domestic abuse support services at all.

That problem sadly continues. Funding is, of course, a key challenge, something that our recently published mapping report – a Patchwork of Provision – has highlighted is particularly acute for ‘by and for’ services. However, another major challenge is how to develop the capacity of ‘by and for’ LGBT+ domestic abuse support services in the first place, because many areas in England and Wales don’t have existing services.

One area that has been working to address these twin challenges is Devon and Cornwall. There, commissioners have worked together with a local LGBT+ service – Intercom Trust – to develop specialist domestic abuse support.

The result was a successful bid to the Ministry of Justice for funding to develop the Safer Rainbow Project and since April 2022, two LGBT+ domestic abuse advocates have been working with low to high risk LGBT+ victims and survivors of current or historical domestic abuse to offer help, support and guidance.

LGBT+ victims and survivors should also have access to appropriate advice with regards to; health, housing, welfare, legal issues and other needs that are identified. Additionally, the two LGBT+ domestic abuse workers have provided presentations to support other professionals from a variety to services to raise awareness of the additional complexities about LGBT+ victims and survivors of domestic abuse and the additional barriers to seeking support.

The key to securing the funding for, and then setting up the Safer Rainbow Project was – according to local commissioner Collette Eaton-Harris – bringing together different stakeholders. That included strategic leads from health, local authorities, and the office of the Police and Crime Commissioner, as well as LGBT+ specialists. That event was the catalyst in seeking funding because it helped build a shared understanding of what the gap was, how to fill it, and because stakeholders made a commitment work together to develop a new service.

At around the same time Galop, a national charity working with and for LGBT+ victims and survivors of interpersonal abuse and violence had produced a guide, ‘Commissioning for Inclusion: delivering services for LGBT+ survivors of domestic abuse’. The guidance explores the approaches commissioners can take to developing or sustaining LGBT+ domestic abuse support services across the course of a commissioning cycle. It also includes tips for providers too, including how they can demonstrate they are responding to and identifying the needs of LGBT victims and survivors.

While the guidance could be used by anyone, in Devon and Cornwall it provided a structure for discussions between local commissioners and Intercom Trust. Collette also highlighted the importance of the external input from Galop, describing how the joint specialist case – fronted by Intercom Trust as the local service, but with support from a national charity – helped ensure traction. 

Since the Safer Rainbow Project was set up, it has supported a wide number and variety of LGBT+ victims of domestic abuse and violence across Devon and Cornwall. The feedback from victims and survivors has been hugely positive, reflecting both positive experiences of support but also the importance of working with a led by and for service:

“Thank you so very much for working with me and giving me a new look on my life with a strong and independent woman now. My emotional resilience is definitely a lot more present now and I will continue to grow with my self-care thanks to your input.”  

“A service that is accommodating to a wide variety of gender identities and sexualities admits itself quite immediately to an understanding of the modern-day oppression of non-conforming individuals. This, coupled with the excellent and patient service provided allows an early safety net from the get-go”

“Intercom has the experience and knowledge to welcome vulnerable people and care for their needs and support in which area they are suffering. I received a lot of support going through a dv relationship and have achieved so much from my sessions”

“I have had excellent support and have been put in contact with other services I would not have been able to access”

Although our work on the current postcode lottery shows the continued barriers for LGBT+ victims and survivors, the work in Devon and Cornwall shows it doesn’t have to be like this and we can work together to ensure that all victims and survivors, including LGBT+ people, can access domestic abuse services.

If you live in Devon and Cornwall and want to find out about Intercom Trust, there is information about their domestic abuse support online or you can call their helpline on 0800 612 3010 (9:00 – 4:00, Mon to Fri). For people elsewhere in England and Wales, Galop runs the National LGBT+ Domestic Abuse Helpline which can be contacted on 0800 999 5428 and more information on domestic abuse help and support is available on Galop’s website.”

Many thanks for this piece which was written by one of the Domestic Abuse Commissioner’s Practice and Partnerships Team with Colette Eaton Harris from NHS Devon and Helen Brown from Safer Rainbow Project/Intercom Trust.