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Breathing Space: A Digital Tool for Survivors An Update

“We need to have more understanding as to what women are going through on a daily basis and women need to be able to access these services 24/7 without any barriers or any fear. There should be something with 24 hour access and it should be free for women to access – out of hours, any time” 

Domestic violence, sexual abuse and multiple disadvantage (see our definition here) are all forms of trauma. The resulting feelings and behaviours these traumas bring about often leave survivors struggling to cope. Survivors repeatedly tell us that evenings and weekends can be the worst time for them. At times when no support is available, they are left alone to deal with confusion, discomfort and fear resulting from abuse, often leading to a sharp decline in their mental wellbeing. 

From our research we have found that 60% of survivors have looked online for support. The internet is often the first place survivors go to seek help, citing the anonymity and ease of accessibility online support affords. Despite this, survivors tell us that trying to find relevant support can lead to further distress, with uncertainty around who to trust and where to look. Moreover, the support available often does not make this link between domestic violence, mental ill health and trauma, nor does it provide context to the fear these women may be encountering. 

“They need to work with the  people who have lived this experience. We are the only people who have lived it, the real life, the reality and know what it’s like. We need to start engaging with survivors and using their voices to inform policies and procedures” 

As part of the Tech for Good project, AVA has been working with a group of experts by experience to create an app to resolve these gaps in support. Integral to this project is the co-produced nature of this process. As the quote above asserts, survivors are those that know what it’s like to live through abuse. Survivors should be figureheading projects seeking to support those living with abuse, bringing experiential, grounded knowledge of what survivors themselves want and need.  

This project has taken the form of a steering group who have been at the centre of both the planning and formation of the app which they have entitled Breathing Space. This co-design process has involved user testing and feedback embedded from start to finish, whilst also providing a space for survivors to speak openly about their experiences with their peers. The group of experts by experience reflected not only on what they would have wanted when living with abuse, but also what kind of aftercare best suits those dealing with trauma. 

Breathing Space in its current form provides both practical and emotional support. The app provides a simple tool that helps survivors navigate appropriate support, signposting to relevant services which provide a trauma-informed ways of helping, and techniques to assist with immediate trauma symptoms (such as the need to act out grounding techniques whilst experiencing flashbacks, unwanted memories or difficult emotions like panic). This app allows survivors to locate the right support at the right time and gain access to information that acknowledges and reflects what they have gone through, as designed by those who have lived it. 

The unprecedented crisis has shown the need for safe, trauma-informed and remote access support in a way which we cannot and should not ignore. In the wake of corona virus, those currently living with perpetrators or living with the aftermath of abuse are likely to suffer more than most. Thousands are likely to spend the coming months unable to escape their perpetrators, and for those who have left abusive situations, the sensation of entrapment is likely to be incredibly triggering. For those who are living in a constant fear or isolation, technology can often provide solace, support and a sense of hope – something that many of us are only now discovering. 

The ongoing pandemic has shown  how valuable accessing support online can be and will continue to be for survivors in the future. With many of us working remotely and all of us trying to build a sense of community, the online space is more vital than ever. Survivors have told us that they often seek solace and support in online spaces during all stages of their recovery. With Breathing Space, we hope to ensure that those living with or experience after effects of abuse, find trauma-informed, relevant and insightful support when they choose to seek digital support. The app is currently in its prototype phase and we are aiming to raise enough money to move into a live tool as soon as possible.

If you believe in this vision, as we do, please consider donating HERE to support us.  

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