The Duchess of Cornwall has pledged to do all she can to help domestic abuse victims as she hailed the “brilliance” of a safe haven initiative for those wanting support.
Camilla’s commitment was made when she spoke to Suzanne Jacob, chief executive of SafeLives, a charity supporting survivors of abusive partners, and was given an update about the Ask for Ani (Action Needed Immediately) scheme.
The project, introduced in mid-January, is operating in more than 2,000 pharmacies which offer a private space for a person when they mention the codeword Ani.
A trained member of staff will provide a phone and ask if help from the police or other domestic abuse support services is needed.
The duchess was also joined in the video call on Tuesday by SafeLives pioneer Rachel Williams, and said about the Ani project: “It’s pure brilliance because it’s so simple, yet it’s so effective.”
She went on to say: “My heart is well and truly in it so I’d really like to do anything to help all these wonderful people.”
SafeLives was founded by Baroness Diana Barran at her kitchen table in 2005 and it established the best friend rule – if your best friend was experiencing domestic abuse, what would you want for them?
The charity provides a range of services for those who have endured domestic abuse and works with other organisations with the ultimate aim of eradicating the issue.
A “deeply troubling” rise in reports of domestic abuse has continued throughout the pandemic and “shows no sign of abating”, Yvette Cooper, chairman of the Commons Home Affairs Committee, warned last week.
Calls and contacts logged by the National Domestic Abuse Helpline increased by 34% to 114,986 between April and December, compared with 85,771 for the same period in 2019, figures provided to her committee suggested.
With support from the Domestic Abuse Commissioner and Victim’s Commissioner, SafeLives proposed the Ask for Ani scheme to the Home Office and worked with the department to create the initiative.
SafeLives’ chief executive Ms Jacob said: “One of the things that Rachel and the other SafeLives pioneers were talking about right at the start of the first lockdown is, ‘How do we open up new spaces for people to access support?’
“And from there came the Ask for Ani scheme, which is now in over 2,500 Boots stores and over 200 independent pharmacies.
“All of those places opening up their doors, training their teams to be able to just have an initial conversation with somebody.”
She added that nearly one person a day is accessing the service, and one of the people to ask for Ani had been in an abusive situation for 20 years.
The duchess, who is patron of SafeLives, praised Ms Williams, who has written a book about her harrowing experiences at the hands of an abusive husband, suffering for 18 years before he shot her after she filed for divorce.
Camilla said: “You have been such a wonderful spokesman, because, you know, you’ve suffered this terrible abuse and yet you’re prepared to get up and talk about it – and I think that is what is needed.”
She added “I think you ought to have an army of Rachels”.