Building resilience in the 'forgotten heroes'

Improving informal support for women experiencing domestic violence


The purpose of this study is to start developing resources and services for people who know someone who is experiencing domestic abuse. 

We want to find out whether providing support for informal supporters (friends, family members, neighbours and colleagues) of women experiencing domestic abuse aids their own resilience and increases their capacity to help.

We believe that if you help people who are providing informal support to someone they know, there will be a double-benefit: they themselves will be more resilient and therefore will feel better prepared to support the woman they know who is experiencing abuse.

The study will run from August 2019 to March 2022.


About 1 in 4 women in the UK will experience abuse from a partner or adult family member during their life. Most women in this position will talk about their situation, or seek help, from people close to them (their friends, relatives, neighbours or colleagues).

These people who are providing informal support, are important because what they say and do can have a really big impact on the woman who is experiencing abuse. If their support is positive, it can improve the woman’s safety, support her decision-making, help her to cope, and increase her ability to recover.

Our previous research has shown that people providing informal support may also experience impacts because of the situation. Their own health and wellbeing may be affected, and they may also be at risk themselves from the person who is being abusive.

Friends, relatives, neighbours and colleagues of women experiencing domestic abuse often want to help, but usually feel ill-equipped and confused, not knowing what to say and do for the best. There are no services at present which are tailored specifically for this group of people.

The research

During the first stage of the research, we wanted to learn directly from the experiences and views of people who had been in the position of friend, family member, neighbour or colleague to a woman experiencing domestic abuse.

We recruited members of the public who had been informal supporters, to take part in research interviews and focus groups

From the information shared by people, we discovered that informal supporters wanted a variety of different types of resource, but that most felt that a dedicated website would be a good starting point. They wanted this online resource to be tailored to their needs, and to provide information about domestic abuse, and about what they could say and do to help in the situation.

Informal supporters also felt that acknowledgment of the complexity and challenge for them, as they tried to offer support, was important. And that advice about how to remain safe, and to continue coping, would be valuable to people.

We are currently developing this website resource and will make the link available when it is launched (likely Summer 2021).

Study team, funder and contact details

University of Bristol

Collaborating organisations


AXA Research Fund


For further information, contact: 

If you want to access support for yourself or someone you know, please call the National Domestic Abuse Helpline: 0808 2000 247 (freephone 24/7) or contact Women’s Aid via their online email and instant messaging services

In an emergency, call 999.

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