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Press releases

Refuge and Love Island star Zara McDermott take 'The Naked Threat' campaign to the gates of Parliament
Refuge and Love Island star Zara McDermott take 'The Naked Threat' campaign to the gates of Parliament

Refuge, the UKs largest domestic abuse charity, and former civil servant, and star of Love Island,  Zara McDermott take ‘The Naked Threat’ campaign  to decision makers to demand change in law. Today, Thursday 24 September, Refuge, former civil servant and Love Island star Zara McDermott, and survivor of domestic abuse Natasha Saunders, will take Refuge’s ‘The Naked Threat’ campaign to the gates of Parliament to urge the Government to ensure the Domestic Abuse Bill better protects women and girls from abuse. The campaign has already been backed by Dame Vera Baird, Victims Commissioner, as well as Nicole Jacobs, Domestic Abuse Commissioner and is now also backed by Cosmopolitan UK, which has come on board as Refuge’s official media partner for this campaign. Earlier this year, Refuge launched ‘The Naked Threat’ campaign, which calls on the Government to change the law to make threatening to share intimate images a crime. Currently, an offence is only committed once an image has been shared, meaning women experiencing these threats often face being controlled by their abusers with the threat to share an intimate image, as well as experience significant barriers when trying to access justice. Both Zara and Natasha have experienced these threats, and are championing the campaign. A representative survey, commissioned by Refuge earlier this year, found that one in 14 adults had been on the receiving end of these threats -  with young women (1 in 7) being disproportionately impacted by such a threat.  These threats were overwhelmingly made by current or former partners, making this is a domestic abuse issue, and one which should be addressed urgently through the imminent Domestic Abuse Bill. The Bill is expected to return to the House of Lords in the next few weeks Ordinarily, Refuge and Zara McDermott would be lobbying within parliament to see this simple amendment made within the Bill – but Covid-19  restrictions have prevented this so instead we’re taking a modern day ransom note to parliament to raise awareness and deliver a clear message to MPs and Peers – the law needs to change. An ad van will park outside parliament and deliver the words of Natasha’s real life threats to share experience.  Simultaneously a social-first campaign will launch taking a modern twist to traditional ransom notes. An innovative hack of Cosmopolitan’s Instagram stories will rollout – initially presenting as a harmless article which soon turns sinister, threatening Cosmo viewers with a chilling ransom note. The aim of the campaign and the social assets created is to drive supporters to sign a letter to call for a change in the law – a change that could be simple and swift and housed within the imminent Domestic Abuse Bill.  This much needed change will give protection to hundreds and thousands of women who live in our country today under the fear of the threat to share an intimate image.  The Naked Threat must be made crime – and the time to act is now. The ad van will drive past Parliament between 11am and noon . The message will run repeatedly, providing a photo and video opportunity for media, as well as interviews on site. A full suite of digital assets, created pro-bono by AMV BBDO is also available on request, strictly embargoed. Natasha Saunders, survivor of domestic abuse said: “The abuse I suffered at the hands of my ex was horrific. Not only did he physically abuse me, I also suffered rape, and threats to share intimate images.  I know only too well that these threats are not isolated incidents and are so often used as further methods of control. I was absolutely terrified these images would be shared with my family and publicly. The threat of them being shared was my worst nightmare – and meant I had no choice but to comply with my ex partner’s continued abuse or face potential shame and humiliation.” Ellie Butt, head of policy and public affairs at Refuge said: “Today, we are sending a strong message to Government – change the law and protect women and girls from the threat to share intimate images. Threatening to share intimate and sexual images and  videos is another tool a perpetrator has in his toolbox to abuse. The law has yet to recognise this devastating form of abuse. Our survey found that 83% of women who experienced these threats said it impacted their mental health and wellbeing, with more than 1 in 10 feeling suicidal as a result of the threat and 1 in 7 felt more at risk of physical violence.  These statistics should send a stark warning and a clear message to Government – act now to change the law and help protect women and girls from this form of ever increasing pernicious abuse.” Zara McDermott said: “I am so pleased to support Refuge with this important campaign. I’ve been on the receiving end of ‘revenge porn’ and know exactly how damaging it can be. I’ve heard from countless other women that they too have had similar experiences. This change in the law really could make a difference to the lives of so many women. . I used to work within the walls of Parliament, and now I’m outside, lending my voice to strengthen the call, to ensure women receive the protection they deserve.   I hope that the Government will hear our message loud and clear and push for the changes we are asking for -  a swift and simple amendment to the law really could make a difference.” Claire Hodgson, editor-in-chief, Cosmopolitan UK said: “When we learned that one in seven young women will face this threat, we knew we had to get behind the campaign. These are our readers, who every day, will be living in fear, the impact hanging over them – and affecting their mental health and feeling of safety. Which is why we’ve teamed up with Refuge, as their media partner, to call for the law to be changed and make this very real threat illegal.” ENDS Editors notes. Creative assets, kindly produced pro bono by agency AMV BBDO -  available on request including animation for digital media use. Refuge is incredibly grateful to AMV BBDO for their support. Media can only attend by appointment due to strict social distancing rules -  masks must be worn at all times -  please contact the press office to reserve a slot. For more information contact press@refuge.org.uk Join the campaign here. Read the report.

Refuge statement on Eastenders domestic abuse storyline
Refuge statement on Eastenders domestic abuse storyline

In response to the murder of Chantelle Atkins by her husband Gray in Eastenders, Lisa King, director of communications and external relations at national domestic abuse charity Refuge said: ‘The scenes we have seen take place in Eastenders over the last few months are sadly reflective of what Refuge sees every single day. Women being controlled, abused, and in some instances killed by their abusive partners. Women’s lives being lost to male violence, while friends and family members are left to grieve having felt powerless to stop the abuse, or being unaware it was even happening. The team at Eastenders has done a great job reflecting on screen what is a horrific reality for so many families . Refuge has helped to support the development of these storylines which is important. Soaps are a cornerstone of our society and it is vital that they reflect what happens across the country and in our society today. Domestic abuse is the biggest issue facing women and girls and storylines like Chantelle’s, while painful to watch, are key to ensuring we continue to shine a light on domestic abuse and do everything we can to support women who need help. The behaviours displayed by Gray - controlling, monitoring Chantelle’s every move, trying to isolate her from her friends and family, tracking her movements, spying on her, manipulating the children, as well as the physical abuse she is subjected to - are all tactics that abusive partners use frequently. They are designed to exert maximum control and to prevent women from leaving. What we also know is that leaving an abusive partner is the most dangerous time for women - and is when the majority of domestic homicides occur. Once a woman threatens to leave, her abusive partner might feel his control slipping, and this can, and does, result in the murder of women across the country. 2 women a week are killed by a current or former partner in England and Wales - a statistic which should horrify us all. The timing of this storyline, whilst brutal, is relevant. Any day now the Domestic Abuse Bill will return to Parliament giving the Government a real opportunity to protect and save the lives of abused women and children in this country. We hope that they will ensure it is as bold and transformative as it has the potential to be. Women’s lives, women just like Chantelle, depend on it.'

Refuge responds to Revenge Porn Helpline recording record number of calls
Refuge responds to Revenge Porn Helpline recording record number of calls

Lisa King, director of communications and external affairs at Refuge said: "These statistics are as concerning as they are horrifying – but sadly reiterates what Refuge knows only too well -  that sharing, or threatening to share, intimate images or videos is a huge issue impacting women and girls across the country." "Our The Naked Threat report showed that one in seven young women have been threatened with sharing an intimate image or film. At the moment threatening to share intimate images is not yet a crime and means millions of women  have been controlled and coerced by their abusers and are made to live with the fear that this might happen to them.  Until this threat is made a crime perpetrators of this form of abuse  will remain at large and women stand little to no chance of accessing support from the police.  This must change." "Refuge, through its The Naked Threat campaign, is calling for the Government, through the upcoming Domestic Abuse Bill, to make this legal change a reality – and in so doing give abused women and girls the protection they so desperately need and deserve." For further information, please contact press@refuge.org.uk.

Refuge responds to the latest CPS rape and domestic abuse statistics.
Refuge responds to the latest CPS rape and domestic abuse statistics.

Refuge, the UK’s largest provider of specialist domestic abuse services, responds to the latest CPS rape and domestic abuse statistics. In response to the release today of rape and domestic abuse statistics from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), Lisa King of national domestic abuse charity Refuge said: ‘Refuge is extremely concerned by these disappointing and alarming statistics. Once again, rape convictions have reached a record low. Survivors are being failed on all sides by both police and the CPS, with an 18.6% drop in the number of cases being referred by the police to the CPS compared to last year, and the number of convictions falling by 25%. Rape convictions are now at their lowest level since 2007. ‘Police referrals for domestic abuse cases dropped by 21%, which is shocking in light of the Government’s public statements regarding their commitment to tackling domestic abuse. Only 20% of the survivors Refuge supports report the abuse they have experienced to the police, meaning today’s statistics represent only a fraction of the trauma survivors face on a daily basis. ‘What message does this send to women and girls who have been subjected to this horrific abuse? How are survivors of domestic abuse, rape and sexual assault expected to have faith in the criminal justice system? ‘While Refuge welcomes efforts by the CPS to improve the number of rape convictions, we need to see comprehensive reform to the criminal justice system, both to the police and the damaging culture around reporting and prosecuting rape. ‘The Covid-19 crisis has magnified the terrifying reality facing countless victims who are trapped with abusive partners and these statistics are a wake-up call for the criminal justice system. Now more than ever women need a robust criminal justice response and must have the confidence in the system to treat domestic abuse as serious crime.’ For further information, please contact press@refuge.org.uk.

Sandra Horley CBE is retiring after 37 years as the Chief Executive of Refuge
Sandra Horley CBE is retiring after 37 years as the Chief Executive of Refuge

Sandra Horley CBE is retiring after 37 years as the Chief Executive and Company Secretary of Refuge at the end of October and stepping down from CEO duties with immediate effect due to planned leave. Sandra has led Refuge since 1983, tirelessly working for the needs of women and children escaping domestic abuse and other forms of gender based violence. Sandra was awarded an OBE in 1999 ‘for services to the protection of women and children’ and CBE in 2011 ‘for services to the prevention of domestic violence.’ These notable awards illustrate her remarkable contribution to the country in placing the issues of domestic abuse and other forms of gender based violence at the forefront of society. Under Sandra’s direction and leadership over the last 37 years, Refuge as an organisation has grown from strength to strength and achieved outstanding success in becoming a credible expert in the sector and a vital support for women and children experiencing domestic abuse. We are the largest single provider of services in the UK, supporting over 6,500 survivors every day, through a 400 strong team of staff and volunteers. Sandra Horley says: “Now is the right time for me to retire from Refuge. I am proud to have led the charity over the last 37 years. It is now established as the leading service provider in this country for those fleeing domestic abuse and other forms of gender based violence. It has also been at the forefront of the campaign to change social attitudes to these issues.” On behalf of the Board and the entire staff team, the Chair, Hetti Barkworth-Nanton says: “I want to thank Sandra for her long and renowned career with Refuge and her unwavering support for the many women and children she has helped over the years. It’s an incredible achievement, devoting so much of her career and energy to a cause that we all care about so much. I wish her my very best wishes for the future and, as a Board alongside all of our staff and volunteers, we will do our absolute best to build on her legacy so Refuge can increase the support we provide for women and children escaping domestic abuse.” Refuge’s Board of Trustees will now start recruiting for a new CEO. In the meantime, the Board has appointed an experienced leader, Carole Easton, as the interim CEO. Carole will work closely with the Board and the Senior Management Team to continue delivering lifesaving services to the women and children we work with. For further information, please contact Carole Easton on carole_easton@refuge.org.uk. For all media/communications queries, please contact press@refuge.org.uk.

BLM response
BLM response

Refuge recognises that the reality of the lives of Black, Asian, and minority ethnic groups can no longer be denied by any individual or institution. Recent events around the world have shone a clear light on the discrimination, persecution and high levels of deprivation experienced by men, women and children from these groups; experiences which lead to a much greater likelihood of lifelong poverty and contact with the criminal justice system. In line with Refuge's core values as a learning organisation, we do not absolve ourselves of the responsibility to do better. We are committed to addressing racism, prejudice and discrimination where it is found, and we are taking steps to recognise, acknowledge and challenge privilege and bias within our own organisation and beyond. We know that progress has been slow and we know there is no quick solution. We are committed to do better to bring about positive change for our black communities and to contribute to the dismantling of systemic racism in England.

Refuge launches 'The Naked Threat' campaign
Refuge launches 'The Naked Threat' campaign

Refuge launches ‘The Naked Threat’ campaign, and calls on the Government to make the threat to share intimate images a crime. As the Government begins the Report stage of the Domestic Abuse Bill, Refuge, the UK's largest specialist provider of services for survivors of domestic abuse and their children, has launched a campaign with one clear aim: to make threats to share intimate or sexual images or films a crime. Refuge's specialist tech abuse team has seen an increase in the number of women reporting threats to share intimate images, providing a unique insight into how this form of abuse is developing, and the barriers survivors face in accessing police support and keeping safe. Refuge's ‘The Naked Threat’ campaign - which is backed by the Victims Commissioner and the Domestic Abuse Commissioner - urges the Government to use the Domestic Abuse Bill to make a simple legal change that would make a huge difference to the everyday lives of the women and girls Refuge supports. A survey commissioned by Refuge found that 1 in 14 adults in England and Wales have experienced threats to share intimate images or videos – equivalent to 4.4 million. Threats to share intimate images are most prevalent amongst young people (aged 18-34), with 1 in 7 young women experiencing such threats. 72% of women who have received threats to share were threatened by a current or ex-partner and 83% of women who experienced the threat from a current or former partner also experienced other forms of abuse. This confirms Refuge’s assertion that threatening to share intimate images must be treated as a domestic abuse issue. The Domestic Abuse Bill gives the Government a legislative vehicle by which to swiftly enact the change to the law that survivors need. The impact on women experiencing threats to share intimate images is devastating. 83% said it impacted their mental health and emotional wellbeing. More than 1 in 10 women felt suicidal as a result of the threat and 1 in 7 felt more at risk of physical violence. These figures paint a stark picture of the prevalence of this form of abuse women are experiencing, and how threats of this nature are part of a pattern of coercive and controlling behaviour. Ellie Butt, head of policy and public affairs at Refuge, said: ‘Refuge is launching this campaign as the Government heads into the report stage of the Domestic Abuse Bill with a clear ask: the law urgently needs to change and the Bill provides the Government with the perfect opportunity to act quickly and decisively. Sharing an intimate image is already a crime - rightly so - but now the law needs to move with the times and recognise that threats to share these images causes serious harm regardless of whether the threat is then carried out. The results of our survey are clear - this is a domestic abuse issue impacting millions of women and girls across England and Wales. 85% of respondents to our survey want to see this legislative change, and this cannot be ignored. We hope the Government will hear this call and act quickly. Refuge stands ready to work with the Government to ensure this change in the law can be enacted without delay, and ensure the Domestic Abuse Bill is as transformative and bold as possible, offering protection from abuse to as many women as possible.’ Natasha Saunders, 31, Refuge survivor said: ‘I’d been in a relationship with my ex-husband for six months when he first ordered me to remove my clothes and pose for intimate photos. In the beginning, I thought taking these photos was an act of intimacy, but they were actually being used as another form of domestic abuse – and as another way to control me. He would berate me and mock my appearance until I gave in. Posing for these photos made me feel so dirty and worthless, but I was just a teenager and I wanted to make him happy. I never imagined these pictures would become leverage for my abuser’s campaign of isolation and coercive control. The threat of those intimate photos being shared was my worst nightmare – I had no choice but to comply with his continued abuse or face potential shame and humiliation.’ The Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales, Dame Vera Baird QC, said: ‘A key report - Shattering Lives and Myths written by professor Clare McGlynn and others at Durham Law School - was launched at the Supreme Court last year and sets out the appalling consequences to victims of intimate images being posted without consent on the internet. These images are sometimes sent to the victim’s children, or their parents, or their employer and frequently also posted on porn sites. Victims speak of not going out and being unable to meet anyone new because they feel sure that everyone has seen their intimate image online. One victim referred to it as ‘like being raped again and again in public. It is an increasingly used, and very potent threat by domestic abusers, especially if their victim threatens to leave. It exerts a terrible grip keeping victims in relationships with perpetrators who are obviously ruthless and cruel. It is imperative that it is made a criminal offence. The ministers taking the Domestic Abuse Bill through The Commons have shown already that they are listening to well-evidenced suggestion for important amendments and this is an exceptionally important one.’ Domestic Abuse Commissioner Nicole Jacobs said: ‘The threat to share an intimate image – so-called ‘revenge porn’ – is an insidious and powerful way that perpetrators of domestic abuse seek to control their victims, and yet the law does not provide the protection that is needed. Threats to share these images play on fear and shame, and can be particularly dangerous where there might be multiple perpetrators or so-called ‘honour-based’ abuse is a factor. What’s more, the advent of new technologies enable perpetrators to make these threats even where such images do not exist, but there is no clear criminal sanction for this behaviour. I therefore call on the Government to use the Domestic Abuse Bill to criminalise the threat to share intimate images, as well as to extend the coercive and controlling offence to post-separation abuse, both of which would go a long way in better supporting victims and survivors of domestic abuse.’ Refuge is asking its supporters to take action here calling on the Government to amend Section 33 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 to explicitly outlaw threats to share sexual images or films in England and Wales. For more information please contact the press office on 0207 395 7731 or email press@refuge.org.uk. Read the full report.

Chelsea supporters raise over 200K for Refuge and CFC matches donations
Chelsea supporters raise over 200K for Refuge and CFC matches donations

Chelsea supporters raise over 200K for national domestic abuse charity Refuge, club matches donations. Chelsea women donate WSL Championship funds also. Chelsea supporters, matched by their club, have secured more than half a million pounds for Refuge, the UK’s largest single provider of specialist domestic abuse services. At the start of April, Chelsea Football Club joined forces with Refuge to raise awareness and valuable funds to support women and children experiencing domestic abuse during the current Covid-19 crisis. As reports from around the world show that the coronavirus pandemic has led to an increase in domestic abuse incidents during periods of isolation and lockdown, Chelsea asked fans for their support and the response has been incredible. Through the club’s digital campaign with both women’s and men’s team, hundreds of season ticket holder donations and a contribution by Process Photography, Chelsea fans have now raised over £200,000 to help. From one off donations to donating the money from remaining matches that season ticket holders have been unable to attend as games re-commenced behind closed doors, Chelsea fans have dug deep to support a cause which is close to the clubs hearts. Chelsea Football Club and Refuge would like to thank every person who has donated so generously. The club will now be matching donations. The total, together with the funds donated by Chelsea women, is over £500,000. Chelsea FC Women’s manager Emma Hayes said: 'I have been proud to lead the club’s support of this worthy cause and I am proud of the response of our fans. To have raised over £200,000 for Refuge's vital work is incredible and I am so grateful for your generosity. The club and Mr. Abramovich will be matching this contribution and I hope this goes some way to helping women and children in desperate need.’ Sandra Horley CBE, Refuge Chief Executive said: ‘Refuge is enormously grateful to Chelsea supporters who have dug deep at this time to support Refuge - and to Chelsea FC for matching their donations. Since the start of lockdown, Refuge has seen a huge spike in demand for its National Domestic Abuse Helpline - indicating the sheer numbers of women who need our support. Every single penny that is raised helps us to ensure no woman or child is turned away from receiving the support they need. We are so grateful to Chelsea FC and their fans for this incredible gesture of support.’ While this campaign is coming to an end, domestic abuse will not. Chelsea are asking their fans to continue to support Refuge to keep its life-saving and life-changing services running and reach even more women and children in desperate need. Domestic abuse doesn’t come by appointment – it happens all year round. Refuge is there for you if you need their help 24 hours a day 7 days a week. For support please contact Refuge’s National Domestic Abuse Helpline on 0808 2000 247. For more information please contact the press office on 0207 395 7731 or email press@refuge.org.uk.

Refuge responds to announcement of 'major overhaul' to the family courts
Refuge responds to announcement of 'major overhaul' to the family courts

Responding to the announcement of a ‘major overhaul’ to the family courts, Ellie Butt, Head of Policy and Public Affairs at Refuge said: “Refuge welcomes the Government’s announcement today to overhaul the family courts to better protect victims of domestic abuse. Failings by the family courts are regularly cited to Refuge by women who have experienced domestic abuse and many of the women we support around the country have been re traumatised when accessing the family courts. Sweeping reforms are necessary - but the changes should go further. Refuge is pleased to have fed into the Government’s Family Courts Review, and amplified the demands of the thousands of women we support every day. It is especially welcome to see the ‘special protections’ being applied to victims in court. Survivors of domestic abuse must be protected from their perpetrators in court and these measures will go some way to reducing the trauma experienced by survivors going through the family courts system. Barring orders which would make it more difficult for perpetrators to drag their victims back through courts are also welcome and long overdue. Perpetrators often seek to continue abusing their victims by putting them through seemingly endless court proceedings. This is a common tool of economic abuse, which can have a lasting impact on survivors. Refuge is also pleased that the Government is launching a review into the presumption of ‘parental involvement’ always being a positive for the children who witness and experience domestic abuse. We have long called for this presumption to be overturned and while a review is welcome, we hope it will be concluded swiftly so the necessary changes can be implemented without further delay. We stand ready to work with the Government to ensure these changes make a real impact to the lives of the women and children Refuge supports.” For more information please contact the press office on 0207 395 7731 or email press@refuge.org.uk.

Refuge statement on Committee stage of Domestic Abuse Bill
Refuge statement on Committee stage of Domestic Abuse Bill

As the Domestic Abuse Bill continues through the Committee stage this week, Ellie Butt, Head of Policy and Public Affairs at Refuge said: “As the Committee stage of the Domestic Abuse Bill is set to conclude over the next few days, Refuge is hopeful that Government ministers and MPs on the Committee will take this opportunity to add crucial measures to the Bill, to ensure it makes a real difference to survivors and meets the Government’s own objective of transforming the response to domestic abuse. Not all issues that are of primary concern to Refuge will be discussed this week - funding for refuge services for example - but the Committee stage is nonetheless of crucial importance to the development of the Domestic Abuse Bill. As the largest specialist service provider of services for survivors of domestic abuse, Refuge has worked tirelessly over the past few years to try to ensure that the Bill reflects what we know survivors and their children need. It is now vital that these recommendations are taken on board by those who are scrutinising the Bill. Crucially, Refuge wants the Domestic Abuse Bill to include a clear gendered definition of abuse. Of course, anyone can experience domestic abuse, regardless of their gender, but as Refuge knows only too well, the overwhelming majority of victims are women and the overwhelming majority or perpetrators are men. Domestic abuse is a cause and consequence of gender inequality and it is crucial that the Bill reflects this reality. How we define a problem determines our response to it. This week, the Committee will also have the chance to consider vital amendments that would exempt survivors of domestic abuse from repaying Universal Credit. Making sure that the benefits system works for women fleeing domestic abuse is one of the most important changes the Government can make. If women do not have confidence that they will be able to find safety and feed themselves and their children, they may not feel able to leave their perpetrator, and remain trapped in fear of abuse. In Refuge’s experience it is not uncommon for women to return to abusers after experiencing the abject poverty caused by the five-week delay in receiving Universal Credit. For many women, leaving their abusive partner will be the first time they experience the benefits system. Many will have been denied access to money by their abusive partners, others may have been prevented from working or will have to leave their jobs because it is just too dangerous for their perpetrator to know their place of work after they have fled. Women often leave with just a bag of clothes and a few pounds – relying on foodbanks until they receive their benefits. Ensuring benefit advances are non-repayable would be a significant step towards ensuring women can really break free of their abusive partners, enabling them to rebuild their lives and homes. Refuge also hopes that the Government will ensure that women with no recourse to public funds (NRPF) are protected by the Domestic Abuse Bill. Migrant survivors with no recourse are currently locked out of the benefits system, left facing destitution and street homelessness when leaving their abusive partners. Migrant survivors’ access to safety must be guaranteed by ensuring all survivors, regardless of immigration status, can access public funds and regularise their immigration status independently of their abuser. The Domestic Abuse Bill, years in the making, and the result of an incredible amount of work across the Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) sector, has a chance to be truly transformative. Coming at a time when Refuge’s National Domestic Abuse Helpline has experienced more demand than ever, the need for specialist domestic abuse services has never been greater. Refuge hopes the Government will use this opportunity to introduce real, lasting change. Women’s lives depend on it. For more information please contact the press office on 0207 395 7731 or email press@refuge.org.uk