I recently visited a woman's refuge centre in the North West to record a segment for the BBC's Victoria Derbyshire Programme. What I witnessed and the people I talked to tore me apart. It filled me with hope that these places exist but with despair that such refuges need to exist in the first place.
Domestic violence is seen as somebody else's problem when it shouldn't be. It shouldn't be swept under the carpet and it shouldn't be ignored. But refuges up and down the country are closing down. Thirty-two have shut their doors in the last four years alone. Why is this happening?
Money. There. I said it. There simply isn't enough cash to keep these life-saving organisations going. The refuge I visited only gets the bare minimum from the local council. The rest is individual fundraising which takes a lot of time and effort.
I sat down with 'Anita' and 'Anna' (not their real names) who shared their stories. It's possible these brave women wouldn't even be alive without the services of the refuge. Anita was with her abusive partner for seven years. He first hit her on their wedding night. "This is what happens when you don't listen" he told her. Anna spent a decade with her abuser. She was headbutted in her sleep. He kept her a prisoner for four days before finally being rescued by a friend and the police. But she kept going back to him.
'Why not walk away from the abuse?' people say. If only it was that easy. It's an addiction. And believe me, that I know. I've been an addict, I'm not ashamed to admit that. I've made mistakes. I'm only human. Doesn't matter if it's cocaine or being with an abuser, people relapse. Sounds stupid, but sometimes it's the easiest option.
Refuges aren't just a space of safety. These places offer advice on all manner of things, including counselling, advice, education and training. They also give kids an opportunity to play safely, something they may not have been able to do in a house that is more about violence than love. Kids need to be kids. But sometimes they got robbed of their childhood. They want to step in and protect their parent. And as a parent, you want to protect them. And that's when I cried. I cried for every child that's ever been forced to grow up before they're ready. I cried for myself. I cried for my new friends. I cried for everyone who ever suffered. Something has to be done.
The response to today's programme has been amazing and I couldn't be happier. Just an hour ago I got a tweet from someone who watched the show and has just got a place in a refuge. Receiving that tweet was worth doing the show in itself.
Hopefully more attention will be brought to the issue and with more attention, fingers crossed more money will come too. Women, men, girls and boys can no longer simply be turned away because there isn't room. A refuge that contains only forty-two beds can get anything up to forty phonecalls a day.
On a single day in 2013, 155 women and 103 children were turned away from refuges because there was no room (Women's Aid 2013) and between 2010 and 2014 there was a 17% decrease in the number of specialist refuges (Women's Aid 2014). The government promised an additional £13million for domestic abuse services this year on top of the money local authorities already spend.
I really would have liked to have talked to someone from the government about this. They did give us a statement: "Domestic abuse is a completely unacceptable and devastating crime which is why we maintain a strong safety net for its victims. This year we have committed over £3million to specialist accommodation support for victims, including refuges, that builds on the £10million we already committed in March".
They say charity begins at home. If you run a business think about donating to your local refuge. You're not just saving the lives of those being currently abused, you'd be saving the lives of the next generation too. Your donations can pay for outreach workers and educators. You can help make a difference.
As a mother, a daughter, and as a friend, I've cried for many reasons. But there comes a time when tears need to stop and actions need to start.
You can watch the full report on the Victoria Derbyshire website here.