“We provide a place of safety”

21 April 2016

Holly Thomas, independent domestic and sexual violence adviserMeet Holly Thomas, an independent domestic and sexual violence adviser who works as part of the safeguarding team at the Royal Free Hospital.

Tell us more about your role

"My role is fairly new, having only existed for two and a half years. It is complex and highly sensitive as I provide practical and emotional support for both staff and patients who are referred or self-refer to me. I also work to build relationships with staff to raise awareness of abuse issues and to deliver training on safeguarding adults and children.

"I act as an advocate for my clients with other professional bodies, including housing and social services; enact child protection procedures and carry out risk assessments and safety planning.

"My job is complicated by the realities of abuse which mean that physical violence is not always a factor. Coercive control, which was made a criminal offence in January 2016, may be psychological, economic or emotional. It’s not always easy to recognise and is hard to fight; it can build up over months and years, robbing the victim of their self-confidence, independence and sense of self.

How do staff know who to refer to?

"The hospital asks every patient in “hot spots” (emergency departments, maternity, ante-natal and sexual health clinics) a screening question: Is there anyone at home you’re scared of? This provides staff with an initial indicator that something may be wrong and they are then able to refer patients to me.

"I’m training staff to be aware of different forms of abuse and the symptoms they spark in their victims, which can take the form of anxiety, depression, self-harm and suicidal feelings.

"Harm can come to people in many different relationships. For example, ex-partners, parents on children, children on parents, in straight and gay relationships and step-families. I would encourage all staff to feel confident in trusting their gut feeling if they’re caring for a patient they believe is being abused in any way.

How does being based in a hospital help you?

"Hospitals provide a unique window of opportunity for many women to access support. It’s so easy for them to stay off the radar because they’re often not known to any other services but we provide a place of safety. In the past, we’ve admitted pregnant women who don’t strictly need to be admitted just to get them away from their abuser."

For more information or if you would like to talk to someone in the safeguarding team, contact rf-tr.safeguardingvulnerableadults@nhs.net.