In September 2013 Relate Gloucestershire & Swindon (RGS) were granted £33,000 from Comic Relief to set up a Young Survivors Project in Gloucestershire and Swindon. The Young Survivors Project is designed to help 11 – 25 year olds who have witnessed or experienced domestic abuse move on from their trauma and particularly aims to reduce the likelihood of these young people experiencing abuse in their future.

Kimberley Wall, RGS Service Development Manager explains that “it is common for young people who experience domestic abuse to continue to struggle with the flashbacks of their experiences even after the abuse has ended. Other young survivors may not initially realise how much their early experience of domestic abuse has affected them until they get involved in another relationship and begin to see patterns of abuse emerging. The cycle of abuse can continue throughout victims’ lives unless an appropriate intervention is sought”.

Relate Gloucestershire & Swindon decided to invest the money into setting up a Counselling Service as the first stage of the project which offers free one-to-one counselling to 11-25 year olds who have been traumatised by their experiences. Individual counselling can be expensive, compared to other group based therapy sessions, but the organisation believes that investing in young survivors of domestic abuse at this stage could actually save more public spending money in the long term. This is because young people who experience domestic abuse but do not receive adequate support commonly suffer from depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorders, become involved in another abusive relationship and/or are likely to exhibit risky behaviours in the future such as alcohol/drug abuse or have unprotected sex.

Ellaine Cameron, RGS Centre Manager, states that “it was becoming very obvious from the feedback from professionals that no specialist counselling service existed in our localities for young survivors of domestic abuse which meant that these traumatised individuals might not have been receiving the most appropriate therapy they needed. We have combined our relationship counselling experience, young person/family counselling skills and domestic abuse awareness to solve the vital gap in our community’s services and are very grateful to Comic Relief for recognising the importance of tackling the underlying problem of abuse within these young peoples’ lives rather than simply focusing on symptoms, such as depression, individually. The Project hopes to provide a long term solution for young survivors”.

It is estimated that domestic abuse increases at least 20% over the festive season and Relate Gloucestershire & Swindon expects a surge of referrals to the Young Survivors counselling service in the New Year. Kimberley Wall explains that “it may not be surprising that Christmas can also be a difficult time for survivors of domestic abuse whether this is due to re-surfacing memories from this time of year or because they are faced with the prospect of another New Year and realise they are still struggling with some of their experiences from their past”.

Relate Gloucestershire & Swindon aims to make 2014 the year to encourage young survivors in Gloucestershire and Swindon to seek assistance so they are more able and empowered to manage past trauma and recognise abuse warning signs in the future. This involves understanding that domestic abuse is not just physical abuse but includes any means by which a young person or parent is coercively controlled by another. This could alternatively entail being regularly criticised, shouted at, humiliated, threatened, financially restricted or sexually exploited; all which have an adverse affect on an individual’s mental health, anxiety levels and self esteem, especially over time.

If you are aged between 11 and 25 and have witnessed/experienced domestic abuse but are no longer living within the situation or if you are a professional who works with young survivors of domestic abuse then you can contact Relate Gloucestershire & Swindon on 01242 523215 or by email [email protected] and request a referral form.

(If you are a young person who is still witnessing/experiencing domestic abuse you can also seek help from services such as the National Domestic Violence Helpline (0808 2000 247), Childline (0800 1111), Swindon Community Safety Partnership (01793 466506) or Gloucestershire Domestic Abuse Support Service (0845 602 9035).