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Guest post from Agenda Alliance: Recent figures show women suffering domestic abuse from a partner are three times more likely to attempt suicide with those in poverty most at risk

11 replies

NicolaDMumsnet · 20/04/2023 12:00

Jess Southgate

Jess is the Deputy Chief Executive and Head of Policy at Agenda Alliance and has worked in the voluntary sector for 15 years and is committed to breaking complex cycles of harm affecting disadvantaged women and girls. Agenda Alliance has over 100 member organisations and exists to make a difference to the lives of women and girls who are at the sharpest end of inequality.

Do you ever ask yourself how something hiding in plain view has been overlooked for so long? From my work at Agenda Alliance I see the impact of domestic abuse on too many women’s lives, so was disturbed but not surprised that our new briefing paper Underexamined and Underreported confirmed its mental health toll in hard data. It identified a link between domestic abuse by a partner and women trying to take their own life, having suicidal thoughts or self-harming.

Until recently this connection had not been measured. Whilst uncounted, it has been too easy to avoid tackling it with a systemic approach. 

I’ve worked in the women’s and girls’ sector for over a decade and am appalled by headline figures from City University’s analysis which show that:  

  • Women who have experienced abuse from a partner are THREE times more likely to have made a suicide attempt in the past year, compared to those who have not experienced abuse.
  • Poverty puts women especially at risk. Around half of women (47%) who are unemployed, or are unable to work due to sickness or disability, have experienced domestic abuse from a partner. 

The government has committed to a crackdown on all forms of abuse, including putting coercive control on an equal footing with physical abuse. It’s a step in the right direction - but there is further to go. 

In 95% of cases of abuse by a partner, there is economic abuse. This hits the poorest hardest. The way Universal Credit payments are made (to a couple rather than individuals, unless specifically requested) has been found to inadvertently serve as an open invitation to an abuser to get their hands on money intended for the whole household. Women are being trapped in harmful situations.  

Samantha Billingham of Survivors of Domestic Abuse (SODA) told us, “I felt everything would be better without me. No one should ever be driven to that. Economic abuse is coercive control, coercive control is domestic abuse.

As Domestic Abuse Commissioner and previous Mumsnet guest blogger Nicole Jacobs highlighted, the cost-of-living crisis is making things even worse. The stories we hear from women we work with and our charity members providing refuge and specialist advice are heartbreaking. Firstly, domestic abuse survivors with children were trapped by the pandemic, now they’re trapped by the terror of putting food on the table. 

To gather these groundbreaking new statistics, experts at City University analysed the most detailed mental health survey (The Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey) of 7,000 people. Through meticulous examination, Sally McManus and team joined the dots between suicidal distress and domestic abuse in all its forms: emotional, physical, sexual and economic. 

It’s important to be clear: the recent findings show that domestic abuse by a partner can act as a precursor to suicidality. Rarely does only one factor lead to a suicide attempt.  

For Steph, years of abuse remain with her; at times, things reached crisis point. She is 32 years old now, with two children, and she is getting specialist help for complex PTSD. When younger, she lived with a partner who controlled every aspect of her life: “He even tried to control me ending my life. I felt like it wasn’t my life anymore. He laughed when he found I had tried to kill myself and said if I wanted to do it properly, he would do it. It was his way of saying: ‘You’re my property now and I’m not even allowing you to do that to yourself.’”

The women we work with are at the sharpest end of inequality. As well as facing physical, emotional and financial danger at home (though let’s not comfort ourselves, home is often temporary; a hostel, refuge or B&B), most are dealing with a harmful combination of pre-existing mental health problems, addiction and educational disadvantage. A significant number experience racism throughout their lives and many face stigma and discrimination when they look for support. 

Distrust of services, such as social services, which should be a trusted safety net, is high. At Agenda Alliance, we are determined to end this cycle of trauma and harm – so every woman can thrive.

For positive change, we must see:

  • Training of public sector staff, including midwives, GPs, Jobcentre and Citizens Advice teams to understand the links between domestic abuse and suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts.
  • Routine, sensitive enquiries must be made by health, welfare and social care professionals about a woman’s personal safety. 
  • Changes to Universal Credit. Household payments must be made separately to individuals by default. 
  • Properly funded support. After years of cuts, improved funding for specialist advocates, helplines, refuges and support networks is vital. 

With domestic abuse and mental health problems at epidemic levels, actions not speeches are required to save women’s lives. Now. 

If you have any questions about the research or the work Agenda Alliance does please leave them below. Jess will be returning to the post on 28th April, 1-2pm to answer questions.

Twitter: @Agenda_alliance
Read the briefing paper about domestic abuse by a partner and suicidality here

If you are experiencing feelings of distress, or are struggling to cope, you can speak to the Samaritans, in confidence, on 116 123 (UK and ROI), email [email protected], or visit the Samaritans website to find details of your nearest branch.

For information and support on domestic abuse, you can contact the National Domestic Abuse Helpline on 0808 2000 247 or visit the website

Find details of more organisations offering support on domestic violence here. 
Guest post from Agenda Alliance: Recent figures show women suffering domestic abuse from a partner are three times more likely to attempt suicide with those in poverty most at risk
OP posts:

SweetSakura · 23/04/2023 14:35

I'm all for campaigns to tackle abuse of women, but they need to go hand in hand with tackling cafcass and the family courts.

I left an abusive relationship with support from police only to realise that I had leapt out of the frying pan into the fire. Cafcass prioritised contact with my abusive ex over my children's safety or my own. A cafcass officer (a hulking red faced bully of a man) laughed in my face when I said I was too scared to sit in a room with just him and my husband. My son's disclosures to school were ignored by cafcass because they "had a lovely cup of tea with dad who spoke about how much he loves his children"



SODASam · 23/04/2023 20:14

I am delighted to see that, finally, the Government has committed to a crackdown on equal footing with physical abuse because coercive control is domestic abuse. Domestic abuse is about power and control, not physical violence alone, and that for me, is an important message we must continue to repeat.

Thank you to Jess Southgate at Agenda Alliance for bringing this issue of domestic abuse to the forefront because this is the reality of domestic abuse that society doesn't see or understand.

My lived experience of coercive control and domestic abuse lead me to attempt suicide because at that point in time, I just couldn't see a way out. Coercive control took away my independence, my freedom and my life.

I agree wholeheartedly with Jess as she states, actions not speeches are required to save women's lives. Now. Although, we still have a long way to go where domestic abuse is concerned.

However, it is really important that we give hope to those experiencing domestic abuse, that there is life after abuse.

I've reclaimed my life back after escaping an extremely controlling relationship, which resulted in me losing my job, being extremely isolated and my self esteem being completely crushed.

I now have a part time job, go to the gym and set up my own Whatsapp group for friends who want to become more socially active.

My personal message to anyone reading this thread is, it was never your fault, it wasn't what you said, what you did or what you wore. Domestic abuse happens because abusers choose to abuse. No one chooses to become a victim.

My question is, what are the biggest barriers from preventing survivors from escaping perpetrators and what needs to be done to change this?


ouaui · 23/04/2023 21:36

I've seen it in my 20s- it's not easy to 'escape'. there's something like trauma bonding - you believe that they will change. It's not easy at all.


JessAgendaAlliance · 28/04/2023 12:59

Hello, it’s Jess Southgate here. Thank you so much for your comments and questions. It really matters to us at Agenda Alliance that we keep this important conversation going. For too long the connection between domestic abuse by a partner and the impact on a survivor’s mental health has been overlooked, so I’m delighted to be back here to answer your questions.  


SweetSakura · 28/04/2023 13:03

I actually felt most suicidal after I left. When I realised my children were in more danger. And when cafcass repeatedly made me go to mediation with my ex despite all the guidance saying they shouldn't. And I found that most mediators were blind to the coercive control or how to manage that. He would sit and gaslight and abuse me and they would sit silent and "neutral" while I cried.

It's not enough to help mothers leave if we don't look at what comes after.


JessAgendaAlliance · 28/04/2023 13:05

Thank you @SweetSakura for getting in touch. Firstly, I’m so sorry you and your children have been through these harrowing experiences. Not only the initial abuse but the subsequent, double trauma of your own – and your children’s - experiences of the family courts. We know how big a step it is to disclose and we know from the women and girls we work with how important it is that every single professional working within every part of the justice and health system responds safely and sensitively. 
At Agenda Alliance our most recent analysis with City University focuses on the terrible - and long lasting - legacy of mental health problems an abusive partner can have on women, especially those with fewer financial resources. We’re also fully aware of the devastating impact abuse has on all children. I can not respond to your particular experience without knowing more, but I understand why you feel that, after telling a police officer, you ‘leapt out of the frying pan into the fire’.
As I'm sure you're aware, Women’s Aid [] provides specialist grassroots support and advice for women and children experiencing the courts system.  A few years ago (2018) Queen Mary University London and Women’s Aid talked to women survivors of domestic abuse who’d been through the family courts and found evidence of gender discrimination and a culture of disbelief within the family courts system. The same study also found systemic, negative perceptions exist around survivors of domestic abuse and mothers who raise concerns about child contact arrangements.
That same research also found that most women survivors (61%) who’d been through the family courts hadn’t had any proper protections (‘special measures’ as they’re formally called) in the family court. These measures could include a screen to give evidence, without being seen, or a live video link from outside the court. Shockingly, 24% had been cross-examined by their abusive ex-partner in the court.
You’re right that tackling abuse of women and its lifelong impact doesn’t involve one silver bullet. We are calling for all public sector staff eg GPs, midwives, Jobcentre and Citizens Advice teams to receive better training on domestic abuse and its link with suicidality - so that they can be part of the solution, not the problem. All the time we’re finding out more about this hideous crime and the victims who suffer in silence, often without the right kind of support. There’s a lot to be done across society and our public sector to keep women and children safe.
Wishing you and your children well.     


SweetSakura · 28/04/2023 13:09

Thank you Jess, and I agree that it involves a lot of work from a lot of different organisations. It sounds like you have a good handle on the issues.

I agree about midwives having a key role too. My ex first became abusive when I was pregnant, and it was such a shock. I kept trying to tell my midwife but she kept saying dismissive things like "yes pregnancy does put pressure on relationships" rather than realising I was trying to find the words to say something was really not right at all


JessAgendaAlliance · 28/04/2023 13:14

I am very sorry to hear that @SweetSakura, and what you say resonates with what other women have told us. Abuse sadly does not always end when survivors take the brave step to leave, and many perpetrators will continue to cause harm long after. That's why we want to see all professionals that survivors might be in touch with -including through the courts, and maternity services - get training to understand and spot the signs of abuse, and recognise the connection this has with women's mental health.


JessAgendaAlliance · 28/04/2023 13:18

@SODASam – Thank you for sharing your experience and being an advocate for change. And can I firstly say, how delighted I am to hear you’re reclaiming your life.
You articulate so well why it’s a positive start for the Government to face up to the reality of coercive control (though we’d argue they need to much more, and quicker). Coercive control, as you say, is abuse.
We know that in most cases of abuse by a partner, there is economic abuse - part of the toxic power and control you describe. You say you lost your job as result of your ex-partner’s controlling behaviour and describe your isolation.
Sadly, your situation describes what the City University academics we worked with found to be a common experience. 
We’re especially concerned that poverty and unemployment puts women at particular risk of abuse by a partner. Not working because of disability or illness has shown itself to be a horrible hidden invitation to abusers to exert financial as well as emotional and physical control. All of these economic factors can feed into women’s sense that - like you at one point - there may be ‘no way out’.
That’s why it’s so important to have hard data such as our latest findings to challenge and improve the system, to save lives. It’s also why your voice of hope is so important.
You asked, what are the biggest barriers preventing survivors from escaping perpetrators and what needs to be done to change this?
Every woman survivor will have different reasons for feeling trapped – lack of money, housing, health issues, low self-esteem. Added to which the cost-of-living crisis is compounding everything.
But (and it’s a big but) a few simple things could really help. For instance, changing universal credit payments so that women who are struggling financially and on welfare benefits are paid directly.
Last year TSB Bank started an emergency flee fund to help survivors with immediate money to leave, for example. There are other grants available which expert charity Surviving Economic Abuse ( have information about.
Doctors, midwives and all professionals must be better trained too, as I’ve already said. Women must have the opportunity to disclose in safe environments with professionals they trust. And the psychological support must be right for a woman’s circumstance at that time. 

I need help - Surviving Economic Abuse

If a current or former partner has interfered with your money or other economic resources to limit your choices, this information is for you.


JessAgendaAlliance · 28/04/2023 13:20

@ouaui – agreed, it's not easy at all. I'm very sorry to hear you’ve seen this in your own life. As I said to @SweetSakura we can’t for a minute suggest there are simple, silver bullet solutions. But we must keep looking for ways to keep women and children safe. We must never forget that the burden to change lies with the abuser. Thank you for your insight. 


JessAgendaAlliance · 28/04/2023 13:56

Thanks so much to everyone who took time to read and respond to my guest blog. I hope it’s been useful. If you know anyone affected by what we have talked about please direct them to the organisations at the end of my post. 

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