THE BLOG

We Mustn't Ignore the Mental Scars of Domestic Violence

08/07/2015 22:52 BST | Updated 08/07/2016 10:59 BST

Domestic violence is not a topic you would usually associate with the Budget, but this afternoon George Osborne confirmed the news which made the front page of The Sun newspaper on Tuesday: that the Government will provide an extra £3.2m for women's refuge places. This is of course welcome news; since the recession funding for refuges has been decimated and last year around a third of women referred to refuges were turned away due to a lack of space. The sector is in desperate need of investment, but it's important we consider all the ways in which women are harmed by abuse.

Escaping domestic violence is not just about being physically removed from your abuser. The impact doesn't end when the violence stops, when the woman gets away, or even when the perpetrator is convicted. These are all important steps but at Woman's Trust we're all too aware of the forgotten element in all this: the damage domestic violence does to a woman's mental health, and how long, slow and painful recovery can be.

Without specialist support many women face an uphill battle to move on after escaping a violent relationship. Women who are victims of domestic violence are twice as likely to experience depression and three quarters of abused women suffer from either depression or anxiety disorders. The trend is even more acute for black and ethnic minority women: half of Asian women who self-harm or try to take their own life are survivors of domestic violence.

Unaddressed these mental health problems can quickly spiral and take a terrible toll on a woman's life as she struggles to keep a job, maintain healthy relationships with friends or family and is more likely to be at risk of addictions problems and homelessness. For some women the daily routine activities are extremely difficult, such as getting up and dressed, washing, shopping and paying their bills. Many mothers are victims of domestic violence, and the psychological consequences for children can also be devastating and lead to long-term problems. The financial costs associated with all of these challenges- let alone the human ones- are astronomical.

The case for supporting women who have escaped domestic violence is clear and yet sadly resources are critically lacking. Sixty per cent of women's organisations have seen their income fall in real terms since 2008 and three quarters are now drawing on their charity's reserves to maintain vital services. Council funding for local agencies has also been slashed, with the focus now being on addressing victims' immediate, practical needs.

It is in this challenging environment that the Woman's Trust exists offering free, person centred one-to-one counselling to women who have been victims of domestic violence. The impact of this support is life-changing for the women who seek our help: over two thirds said that after our help they felt less suicidal and were less likely to self-harm. Nine out of ten said they had a better knowledge of their rights, empowering to make the best life choices for themselves and the same number said they felt more in control of their future.

Last year Woman's Trust counsellors delivered over 5,300 hours of specialist support to women who had been victims of domestic violence. But we are a small charity operating in London with only limited resources. We are painfully aware that the majority of women escaping domestic violence do not have access to that mental health support they need to make steps towards recovery and empower them to move on- emotionally as well as physically.

On Tuesday the Chancellor was quoted in The Sun saying 'I am determined domestic violence victims get the help they need.' These women need mental health support. I hope this fact does not get lost as the Government takes these encouraging steps towards reviewing how it tackles domestic violence.

Heidi Riedel is Director of the Woman's Trust.

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