01 Dec 2023

16 days of activism interview

During the 16 days of activism we sat down with Alexandra Gibson, CIH’s content and engagement manager and an associate at Addressing Domestic Abuse CIC (ADA), to talk about why domestic abuse is a housing issue.

Why is 16 days of activism important to you?

I am acutely aware of the violence that women and girls face every single day. The fact that more than five women or girls worldwide are killed every hour is a statistic that doesn’t seem to be going away.

I studied criminology in the university and one of the modules I chose to take was violence against women and girls. During this time, I volunteered for Rape Crisis Tyneside and Northumberland and did six months training to become a direct service delivery volunteer, where I would handle calls once a week from women who needed support. This was a real eye-opener for me, especially in terms of the volume of calls and emails that I would receive in a matter of hours. It required a lot of resilience, and often I would come away feeling utterly deflated but equally happy I was able to help somebody through a very traumatic experience as a first point of contact. I’d like to see a world where we don’t have to do this.

After university I went on to work for Gentoo Group, a large housing association in the North East, where I met now director of ADA Kelly Henderson and worked with her on a project looking at the repairs and maintenance role in recognising domestic abuse.

Is 16 days of activism a housing issue?

As a sector we need to use events like 16 days of activism to remind frontline housing staff of the vital role they play is identifying and supporting domestic abuse victims and survivors.

I am really passionate about how we, as housing professionals, respond to and support victims of domestic abuse. Housing officers and repairs staff are in optimum positions to recognise the signs that someone may be experiencing violence, such as constant lock changes, holes in walls or the change in behaviour of a tenant. Knowing what to look out for and how to handle and escalate these situations appropriately really is the difference to saving somebody’s life.

We must use events like 16 days of activism to promote good practice, raising visibility to ensure housing associations and organisations have effective policies in place for staff to follow.

In addition to your role at CIH, you are also an associate of Addressing Domestic Abuse (CIC). Can you tell us what that entails?

Addressing Domestic Abuse (CIC) (ADA) believes in a coordinated community response to domestic abuse, where nobody falls through the gaps. There’s a lot of regulatory change happening which requires the housing sector to be responding effectively to domestic abuse, and ADA exists to equip organisations and associated supply chains in the social housing sector to recognise domestic abuse in all its forms so that residents can be assured of a positive response. As an associate I support the organisation with training webinars and awareness raising.

What is the biggest legislative change you would like to see move forward to support domestic abuse survivors and the organisations working with them?

The long anticipated Domestic Abuse Act finally made its way on to the statute book in April 2021. The Act creates the first statutory definition of domestic abuse which includes not only physical violence but that of emotional, coercive and controlling behaviour, and economic abuse.

The legislation is welcome, providing better protection to victim/survivors especially relating to health, court proceedings and refuge services. In terms of refuge services specifically, the Act guarantees that all survivors in need of housing will be granted a secure tenancy rather than a flexible one - “if that tenancy is granted for reasons connected with domestic abuse”. New duties have also been given to local authorities and social landlords to ensure that all survivors and their children across England can access the right support in safe accommodation when they need it. As part of the new duties, local authorities are required to set up a Domestic Abuse Local Partnership Board to assess the need for domestic abuse support services, prepare and publish strategies and commission services in line with identified need.

This is some of the most significant legislative change we’ve seen because the provision understands the need for secure, safe, stable housing to escape and recover from abuse.

Going forward, I would like to see social landlords and local authorities responding positively to the regulatory changes put forward from the Regulator of Social Housing, which requires all registered providers of housing to be more active and able to effectively manage domestic abuse. I believe this is easily achievable through internal policy development, training, and partnership working.

Finally, what do you think is the most important thing, housing professionals can do to support domestic abuse victims and survivors?

Be aware! Follow domestic abuse groups and influencers to make sure you know the latest research and legal changes so you’re in the best position to support tenants and residents, and even your colleagues, that may be experiencing abuse. At CIH we are always providing our members with updates on the latest legislative change and good practice surrounding domestic abuse.

Please get involved, help advocate and share the importance of domestic abuse awareness. Make yourself known as a safe space to seek support.

And finally, never dismiss an inkling that something isn’t right – however big or small - it really can be the difference between life and death. Everyone can play a part.

Further information and resource links

CIH's Knowledge Hub has a dedicated domestic abuse section with a wealth of resources, case studies, policies and information.

Find out more about Addressing Domestic Abuse's work here Addressing Domestic Abuse | Everyone can play a part