trigger warning - suicide, domestic abuse
Earlier this year there was a landmark inquest into the death of Jessica ‘Jessie’ Laverack which concluded that the “underlying cause of her illness [was] domestic abuse”.
It is thought to be the first time that a coroner has explicitly connected domestic abuse and suicide. The Coroner, Lorraine Harris, was so concerned by the evidence heard about Ms Laverack’s care during the inquest that she also issued a Prevention of Future Deaths report.
She has written to the Home Secretary as well as the Justice Secretary and Health Secretary to demand improved training and domestic abuse-suicide awareness for frontline police officers and other agencies. Neither has responded.
Jessie’s story is all too familiar: she had been subjected to extreme levels of violence and fled over 50 miles in 2017, to escape her abuser. Yet she continued to live in fear, knowing her abuser was still looking for her. She reported feeling suicidal to multiple agencies, and in 2018 was found dead at her home.
When I read that phrase, ‘protective circle’ something stirred in me. It’s what we all need, isn’t it?
At her inquest, Coroner Lorraine Harris said “the recognition of suicidality and its link to domestic abuse was given insufficient weight” throughout her daughter's care. She criticised the multi-agency failings and the lack of understanding and said, “Instead of standing alone they should have been holding hands to form a protective circle around Jessie”.
When I read that phrase, ‘protective circle’ something stirred in me. It’s what we all need, isn’t it? And even more so, those of us who are at risk, or vulnerable for whatever reason. The reality is, local services and agencies know how to do the thing that they exist for, they respond to certain situations within certain time frames, but what they do not provide is holistic care, ongoing support, or personal understanding. Like Ms Harris, we should demand more, but in the meantime, we can step into the gap.
You see, this story sits at the heart of why we launched the Restored Beacon Network - precisely to create that protective circle around survivors. Restored Beacons are churches that choose to create a place of safety and support for survivors of domestic abuse. They don’t have to have all the answers, they do not need to be specialists - they should signpost and refer survivors to local specialists. But what they can do is join the dots, fill the gaps and be a friend on the journey. They can provide the wrap-around care that will see survivors through the dark nights, the lonely days and the frightening court system.
Jessie’s death is a tragedy and she represents hundreds of women like her. We know that two women are killed every week by a partner or ex-partner, but we do not know how many women kill themselves because of the fear of their partner or ex-partner. We do know that 20% of women who entered Refuge’s services between April 2020 and March 2021 had previously attempted suicide whilst a further 42% said they had thought about it.
Those are sobering statistics.
Restored Beacons are churches that choose to create a place of safety and support for survivors of domestic abuse. They don’t have to have all the answers, they do not need to be specialists - they should signpost and refer survivors to local specialists. But what they can do is join the dots, fill the gaps and be a friend on the journey.
It is too easy to underestimate the impact of domestic abuse especially after someone has left their partner. We can be quick to think it’s all over now and that someone should be able to get back on their feet. The reality is it takes years of recovery and for many, the very real threat of danger doesn’t go away.
No one should be left alone in those circumstances. We are called to weep with those who weep, to mourn with those who mourn. We follow a God who is for the oppressed, the outcast and who stepped into the brokenness of humanity to live among us, in all our pain and mess. As His people, we need to do the same.