Building resilience in the 'forgotten heroes'

Improving informal support for women experiencing domestic violence


The purpose of this study is to start developing 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 August 2021.


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 want to learn directly from the experiences and views of people who are (or who have been) in the position of friend, family member, neighbour or colleague to a woman experiencing domestic abuse.

We are recruiting members of the public, who have themselves been an informal supporter, to take part in a research interview via Skype or over the phone. The discussion will take about an hour, and participants will be invited to answer questions and to discuss their experiences, views and suggestions.

From the information shared by people, we will be able to discover what a service for informal supporters could look like – for example, what form of support people want and need, what the necessary components of this would be, which organisation should host the support, and how to make the support accessible. This will inform stages 2 and 3 of the project, during which we will develop a service and then pilot it with a small number of people.

Get involved

We need up to 30 people who are, or have been, an informal supporter of a woman experiencing domestic violence or abuse who are willing to take part in a research interview. If you think you might like to take part, please contact Alison Gregory by email (

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 Violence Helpline: 0808 2000 247 (freephone 24/7) or contact Women’s Aid via their online email and instant messaging services

Edit this page