THE BLOG

This International Women's Day, Let's Celebrate The Incredible Courage Of Domestic Violence Survivors

08/03/2016 10:36 GMT | Updated 08/03/2017 10:12 GMT

As the chief executive of a charity working to end violence against women, it's tempting to feel disheartened this International Women's Day. Refuge is the largest provider of specialist services for women and children escaping domestic violence in the country. Yet since 2011, we have experienced cuts to 80% of our services, with some being cut by up to 50%. Refuge has recently received news of the latest round of savings from local authorities. As I write, Refuge staff are working flat out to keep our life-saving provision afloat.

At the same time, the most recent figures from the Office for National Statistics show that 81 women were killed by their current or former partner last year. One woman in four will experience domestic violence at some point in her life. That organisations like Refuge must battle at every turn to help abused women is depressing, but true. Sadly, in Britain, we are in real danger of returning to the days of Cathy Come Home. Without adequate refuge provision, women experiencing domestic violence will be faced with a stark choice: flee to live rough on the streets with their children, or remain with their abuser and risk further violence - or worse.

However desperate the situation sometimes seems, International Women's Day is a day of hope. At Refuge, there is always something to celebrate - not least the incredible courage of the women we support.

Refuge is now supporting 3,700 women and children on any given day - that's 400 more than last year. Given the current funding climate, this is a tremendous achievement. This support changes and saves lives. Last year 96% of women who used Refuge's services said they felt safer; 91% said their quality of life had improved.

And last month was an extraordinary one for Refuge. We watched with open-mouthed delight as more than £60,000 worth of donations flooded in to Refuge via the Helen Titchener Fund, set up to support a fictional character from The Archers who has been experiencing domestic abuse. More than 4,000 gave money, and many of them left comments about their own experiences.

It is not often one sees a public outpouring of support for organisations like Refuge. Domestic violence, female genital mutilation, rape. These are uncomfortable issues, and still taboo in our society. To see social media feeds awash with support for our work, celebrating the women and children we help, was heartening. So too was the increased awareness around controlling behaviour. Through their skillful scripts, The Archers' writers have demonstrated to the public what Refuge has known for decades - that domestic abuse is systematic, patterned behaviour on the part of the perpetrator designed to control 'his woman'. It charms, it creeps, it controls.

And then there is today. To celebrate International Women's Day, Refuge has been sharing the stories of our #IWDchampions - women who have built new lives following the most unimaginable violence and abuse. They are now taking courses and progressing careers, they are writing books, and they are starting afresh.

Their courage certainly gives me hope, and it should also give hope to those women who have experienced or are experiencing domestic abuse. This International Women's Day, please know that Refuge is here to help you, and that it is possible to live a life free from violence and fear.

If you think you might be experiencing domestic violence, you are not alone. Please visit refuge.org.uk for information and support.