Five minutes with... Lucy McDonald of SafeLives

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We chatted to Lucy McDonald, Programme Lead at SafeLives, to find out more about what the charity does, and what the new Domestic Abuse Act means for women in Scotland.

Can you tell us more about SafeLives, and what the charity does?

We’re a UK-wide charity, working to end domestic abuse for good.

We combine insights from services, survivors and evidence to support people to become safe, well and rebuild their lives. We believe that domestic abuse can be stopped. Stopped before it starts. Stopped before it ruins lives.

Too many perpetrators repeat their behaviour, and too many children grow up impacted by the long-term effects of domestic abuse. Ending domestic abuse for good is what motivates us each day. The cycle needs to stop.

What is your role at SafeLives, and what does this involve?

As Programme Lead I oversee all the work that SafeLives does in Scotland. 

Each year, we know that around 130,000 people in Scotland experience domestic abuse. That’s a devastating figure. We are passionate about creating a robust and consistent approach to domestic abuse across Scotland, providing better outcomes for all those experiencing harm. We often ask “if my best friend was experiencing domestic abuse, what would I want in place for them?”

Our current work includes training which equips police, prosecutors, health professionals, housing staff and others to recognise and respond safely to domestic abuse. We also work with a range of partners to promote best practice in working together to address and coordinate safety planning for those at the greatest risk of serious harm. In another exciting project, we’re working with four local authorities in Scotland to uncover so-called ‘hidden’ victims of domestic abuse – to break down barriers and improve services for younger and older people, victims and survivors with complex needs and those with learning disabilities. 

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Can you tell us more about the change programme you’ve been working on with Police Scotland?

Together with Police Scotland and four other partners, we are delivering training to over 14,000 police officers and staff. This training is helping the police to understand all the nuances of coercive control and the stages a victim will go through during their experience of domestic abuse. As well as understanding how to apply the new Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act, a key aim of the training is to help officers understand why people experiencing abuse don’t find it easy to ‘just leave’, and why they don’t always welcome engagement with the police. 

It can feel difficult for officers when they really want to do a good job and take action that the victim is just not ready for at that time, so this training helps to channel that in a positive and practical way. We know domestic abuse has a devastating effect on children as well as adults, so we also reflect the experiences of children in the training. And we support police to recognise perpetrators, who tend to be very skilled at disguising their behaviours. 

We’re lucky to have the input of amazing trainers from SafeLives, Police Scotland and a wide range of services across Scotland delivering the sessions, which keeps it relevant and up to date. It’s a great programme, really interactive and gives police a better awareness as well as some practical skills to apply. 

What does the new Domestic Abuse Act mean for women living in Scotland?

This is an important step for women, because it validates their experience of domestic abuse beyond the physical effects. Survivors tell us that the psychological impact of domestic abuse can be as, if not more, damaging than physical abuse so it’s right that the criminal courts take it seriously.  Coercive control is not always immediately apparent, it builds slowly and can be very subtle.

The new Act gives women – and their friends and family around them – more opportunities to recognise the signs of a controlling relationship and the methods perpetrators use to isolate, degrade and harm. It means the services around them will be better placed to respond. Vitally, it means these perpetrators can be brought to justice. Greater awareness raising means that those experiencing domestic abuse have a much better chance of support, the experiences of children are taken into account and the focus is placed firmly on the person responsible – the perpetrator.

How can someone who is experiencing coercive control (or knows someone else who is) seek help?

If you are, or know someone who is, experiencing coercive control, the first step in seeking help would be to contact Scotland’s Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage Helpline on 0800 027 1234. You can access advice and information from them 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  They can direct you to a network of specialist support across Scotland. Of course, if you are, or know someone who is, in immediate danger, contact the police on 999.

Remember you are not to blame and there is support out there for you.

Find out more about SafeLives by visiting their website: