“...the forgotten heroes”: a qualitative study exploring how friends and family members of DV survivors use domestic violence helplines

Alison C Gregory, Anna K Taylor, Kate S Pitt, Gene S Feder, Emma Williamson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)
391 Downloads (Pure)


Many women who experience domestic violence (DV) seek support from friends, relatives, colleagues and neighbours. There are substantial knock-on effects for informal supporters, and they may seek help themselves. Tailored services for this group are rare, but domestic violence helplines can provide listening and signposting support. The aim of this exploratory study was to understand which informal supporters contact domestic violence helplines, and what form these calls take.
Three focus groups, following a topic guide, were conducted with staff and volunteers for domestic violence helplines during autumn 2015. Discussions were digitally recorded, transcribed verbatim, and imported into NVivo10 software. Transcripts were coded line-by-line, and a thematic analysis carried out. All participants were female, aged between 22 and 54 years, with between two months’ and eight years’ experience of taking helpline calls.
Findings indicate that people with broad ranging connections to a survivor call a helpline. Calls can be triggered by disclosures, abuse escalation, witnessing incidents, feeling overwhelmed, and media highlighting of DV. Informal supporters respond to survivors, and experience impacts, in differing ways, often associated with their gender and their relationship with the survivor. Frequently, they feel a sense of responsibility and a desire to rescue the survivor, often calling a helpline to reduce feelings of helplessness and to seek a ‘magic’ solution. Many people are concerned about the legitimacy of their involvement and seek reassurance about the validity of their own help-seeking. Helpline workers feel that informal supporters would benefit from opportunities to reduce isolation, have their predicament acknowledged, and learn from peers.
DV helplines have an important role in helping informal supporters of survivors. The help requested is predominantly to equip and empower the informal supporter, so that they feel more adept at coping themselves and, are thus, better able to offer support to the survivor.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages27
JournalJournal of Interpersonal Violence
Early online date25 Nov 2019
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 25 Nov 2019

Structured keywords

  • Centre for Academic Primary Care


  • Domestic violence
  • disclosure of domestic violence
  • vicarious trauma


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