Domestic abuse victims ‘terrified’ of Christmas period

Sandra M. Conte, founder of Future Living. Picture: Future Living Hertford

Sandra M. Conte, founder of Future Living. Picture: Future Living Hertford - Credit: Archant

A domestic abuse charity has said that in expectation of the holidays, it is “already getting calls from people terrified of the Christmas period”.

Future Living Hertford, which provides after care for survivors domestic abuse through its therapeutic support programme and individual case work, is bracing itself before the holidays when the abuse usually gets worse.

Chief executive officer Sandra Conte explained: “It’s manageable while people have outside interests but when people are stuck inside, the children are home and ‘dad’ [or it may be mum] is just in her – or his – face all day.

“There is no respite in the holiday periods and the abuse often gets worse, especially when combined with alcohol.”

The charity – which started in December 2013 – is expecting 900 referrals by the end of this year. So far this year the charity has seen over 700 as victims were stuck inside with their abuser for extended periods of time during the two lockdowns. This is up from 2019 when Future Living saw 480 cases.

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Men make up one fifth of those treated by Future Living, with four-fifths being female.

Sandra, who founded Future Living, was initially focussed on East Herts, but is increasingly seeing people come from Stevenage, Bishops Storford and “huge increases” have come from Welwyn Garden City.

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“Sometimes if they come from far away,” she said. “They feel safer. And we do offer ‘the best’ complementary treatment plan in my opinion.”

Though it does not help people still in the relationship, it offers group and one-to-one therapy after the person has left, Sandra is adamant “we would never turn anyone away” and will always help them get support.

“The case working continues as long as they need it and we have a lot of ad hoc programmes as our relationship with them continues, whether that’s art therapy, yoga, healthy eating, a community cafe and job support and training to upskill.

“We partner with a job centre to bring support there and with housing departments at the councils,” she said, while explaining that they will signpost people to the right services if they cannot help.

The main thing Sandra said they are trying to do is give these woman and men “back control” and “protect them from this happening again”.

“One thing we do is we talk our clients through what is a healthy relationship and we move on from there,” she continued.

“They have lived with a controlling partner who has taken away their family and friends and they often don’t know who they are.

“We need to establish their passion in life and what they think is a fulfilling life.”

The bedrock of the help is a 12-week Monica Domestic Abuse Recovery Programme – which is offered as a standalone Level 4 qualification or as a credit bearing module that can be counted towards further study in a relevant subject at the University of Hertfordshire in Hatfield.

Referrals for Future Living Hertford can come from social housing providers, job centres, the police, Carers in Herts, Mind in Mid Herts and others, while some are self-referred.

And for legal advice they have a partnership with Hatfield’s University of Hertfordshire Free Law Clinic to offer support about what survivors are entitled to.

“These are people who are told repeatedly they’ve got no rights and with no way to find help this is backed up beautifully,” Sandra said.

However, she said when the new Domestic Abuse Bill has been enacted victims – it is currently in the House of Lords – victims will have far more access to legal redress than ever before.

“The Bill aims to ensure that victims have the confidence to come forward and report their experiences, safe in the knowledge that the state will do everything it can, both to support them and their children and pursue the abuser,” according to

Perpetrators will no longer be able to cross-examine their victims in family court, a statutory presumption will be created so victims of domestic abuse are eligible for special measures in the criminal, civil and family courts and it will also mean local authorities will have a duty to house and support those fleeing domestic abuse to find accommodation.

“I think there still needs to be some understanding on how it feels to be a victim’s child,” she said. “We know that those who have bad relationships as children are ripe for this type of abuse.

“But all services are working together to implement the domestic abuse bill for the greater good and this should help.”

Her MP Julie Marson is also a staunch supporter of the new Domestic Abuse Bill, along with MPs across parties, and has joined Future Living Hertford’s Board of Trustees.

For more go here or ring 01992 537344.

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