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SOS: Save Our Specialist Refuges for Women Fleeing Domestic Violence

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BSIP via Getty Images
BSIP via Getty Images

On one typical day, 103 children and 155 women are turned away. There is no space for them.

This is the tagline for the new campaign by Women's Aid to save specialist refuges for survivors of domestic violence across England from catastrophic funding cuts. Between 2010 and 2014, 32 specialist refuges have closed due to cuts to funding. In some areas, austerity measures have resulted in contracts for housing for women escaping domestic violence, and the majority of victims of domestic violence are women, being given to local authorities or homeless services who have no training in working with survivors.

155 is the number of women we know where turned away from refuges on one day. This doesn't include the number of women who have no access to a refuge in their local area. We also do not know the number of women with insecure immigration status who have no recourse to public funds who cannot access refuges. It is possible the number 155 is much higher.

What we do know is that, according to the most recent World Health Organisation study, 1 in 3 women experience domestic violence during their lifetime. We also know that the commonly quoted statistics of 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men in the UK experience domestic violence are not accurate representations of the gendered nature of domestic violence. These statistics are based on single incidents and do not demonstrate how severe the violence was and the context in which the abuse occurred. It also excludes sexual assault, which is experienced by more female victims than male. These statistics ignore the fact that domestic violence is a pattern of coercive control that involves emotional and psychological abuse, which are not currently classed as a crime in the UK. It also fails to recognise that men are more likely to report the first instance of physical violence whereas women wait, on average, 35 times before reporting . More than 80% of domestic violence victims are women with male perpetrators. When men are victims, they are also likely to experience abuse at the hands of a male perpetrator.

Other statistics that need to be made clear:

What the statistics don't show is the women who are trapped in violent relationships because there is no safe space for them. It doesn't name the women who remain with an abusive male partner because he has threated to kill the children if she leaves - and she knows that he will do it. Nowhere do we see the times women tried to disclose to professionals who refused to believe them.

This is why I support Women's Aid SOS campaign to save specialist refuges. Access to specialist refuges with staff who have appropriate trauma-informed training to deal with women's specific needs saves their lives. It only takes 5 minutes to sign the petition and write to your MP. Those 5 minutes could help save the life of a woman living with domestic violence.

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