#LiveFearFree20: Celebrating 20 Years of Impact of The Live Fear Free Helpline

Yashiba Sanil, Communications and Campaigns Officer 

For two decades, the Live Fear Free Helpline has been a vital resource for survivors of domestic abuse, sexual violence and all forms of violence against women in Wales. The Helpline began as a modest operation with a small team focused solely on addressing domestic abuse. This has today evolved into a comprehensive service that supports people who have experienced any form of gender-based violence, providing around the clock 24/7 support, every day of the year, to anyone who might want to reach out. With Helpline workers always beginning the call with a re-assuring “Are you safe to talk?” without enquiring who the caller is and where they are calling from- the focus has always been the same since day one, to provide the best support available to a survivor while maintaining confidentiality without any barriers to geography or other variables. 

As we mark the milestone of its 20th anniversary, it’s not just a celebration of time that has passed, but also a time for us to reflect on the incredible journey this helpline has undertaken. With details from conversation with our Helpline Manager Ann Williams, we are taking a moment to walk down memory lane to see how far we have come and our goals for the future. 

Live Fear Free over the years 

Rewind twenty years, and the landscape for addressing violence against women in the country was vastly different. Domestic abuse has and continues to be shrouded in secrecy, often behind closed doors where victims have been isolated and trapped in cycles of fear. This was even more prevalent a couple of decades ago, as access to comprehensive support was difficult as well as a lack of awareness of the issue. The Helpline was established in 2004, originally with the name “All Wales Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence Helpline”. While in its infancy, the helpline may have been modest in scale, its impact was critical. With compassionate voices on the other end of the line, survivors, or anyone else from family, friends, to professionals had the avenue to reach out, ask the hard questions and break their silence to seek help. 

But as the years passed, new legislation and bills were introduced to address violence against women, which lead to the expansion of the Helplines ambitions. Initially, the Helpline was available to operate on a part-time basis only covering domestic abuse. And in 2011, the Helpline officially rebranded itself as the Live Fear Free Helpline, as we know it today. In 2019 it was recognised that domestic abuse was just one facet of a much larger issue, the helpline expanded its scope, broadening its focus to encompass all forms of violence against women. The Helpline then became full time and 24/7 in its capacity to address a broad range of issues including stalking, harassment, sexual violence and more. 

Domestic abuse services and their landscape have also evolved over the years with more awareness and support for all victims. Routes to access support have also changed for the Helpline. Today, Helpline workers can access Refuge support information anywhere in the UK in 30 seconds by using a database which was formerly known as UK Refuge online to help victims find shelter. The Helpline also has more referral pathways now with police, ambulance services and sexual violence agencies. Further, the helpline also operates a Holding service to match the needs of those who contact it. 

Evolution in the new digital age 

Keeping up with the rapid changes in technology over the decades, the Helpline has achieved success in adapting broader means of access. The system had originally started off as telephone based. But over time the Helpline has expanded to provide services by email, text, and live chat to ensure it meets the needs of anyone reaching out as quickly as possible. And while we discuss the Helpline’s modes of access adapting due to increased levels of digitisation, it then also becomes important to reflect how crimes have changed due to evolving cyberspace. Technology is very easily weaponised to further violence against women. Whether it is through stalking, revenge porn, exercising coercive control through social media platforms or even using tracking devices, perpetrators can now carry out abuse without being in the vicinity of the victim. The Helpline has expanded its scope of understanding these issues and has continued to provide services and advice to victims who might face digital abuse. 


As the Helpline has adapted and evolved over the years, it has achieved several milestones through the work that has been carried out every day. Milestones for the Helpline can look different and whether they are big or small, they all have created an impact to shape the Helpline to where it is now. During COVID for example, the Helpline noticed a decrease in calls from victims because they were forced to be in the same space with perpetrators. But there was more outreach from bystanders and community members which indicated an increase in both awareness about the issue and the ability of the Helpline to be able to signpost and refer support. Older people have also increasingly come to the Helpline over time with greater awareness for support, which was not very common twenty years ago. 

Ann Williams, our Helpline Manger stated that as time passes, every helpline worker has stories or calls that they receive that tend to stick with them. While sometimes Helpline workers might only be able to speak to someone who reached out once, it’s the ability to be able to solve or address an issue efficiently which creates a sense of achievement and even more so when survivors are able to come back and express thanks as to how the help changed their life. Ann also mentioned that Helpline workers also continually touch base with individuals who are on holding service, to ensure they are checked up on and supported while they wait.  

Looking ahead: goals for the future 

Ann Williams mentioned that while the Helpline has come a long way in terms of awareness over the years, there is still quite a lot of scope for more traffic to come to the Helpline. The Helpline aims to provide an open and safe space for everyone including professionals who might require support. 

Further there is so much that is left to be desired when it comes to changes in criminal justice and the legal system. Ann mentioned a surprising fact, where she states that the Helpline has had zero people who have come to access the service referred to by a solicitor. Greater awareness plays into this too, which the Helpline wishes to achieve in the future. 

The Helpline also hopes to be able provide better support to those with No Recourse to Public Funds, which includes refugees, migrants and other vulnerable women. The goal is also to be able to have access to more dispersed units to cater to different needs. 

And in the current socio-political landscape around violence against women, there exist numerous challenges from funding of support services, lack of housing, cost of living crisis and lack of sensitisation in practice among the legal and judicial system. All these challenges require long term, sustainable commitment to resolve issues. And at the end of the day, they all lead us back to our primary goal, which is to fully eradicate all violence against women. And as Ann said- “We are not there yet, in fact we are a long way from it, which is why everybody should be aiming to work towards ending abuse.” And this is what is perhaps the most important Helpline goal for the future looking ahead- to continue working for change that lasts for women across the country, transcending another two decades and extending far beyond.