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Through our range of specialist services, we help more than 6,000 survivors of violence each day across England and Wales. Keep up-to-date with the latest Refuge news, blogs and stories from our communications team.

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Refuge communications and external relations director receives OBE.
Refuge communications and external relations director receives OBE.

Refuge communications and external relations director receives OBE. Refuge is thrilled that our director of communications and external relations, Lisa King, has been recognised in the Queen's Birthday Honors list 2021, receiving an OBE. Lisa joined refuge 18 years ago, as a 30-year-old, who had worked in a traditional PR role. Over 18 years, Lisa has been at the centre of Refuge's growth, now the largest single provider of specialist domestic abuse services in the country. Leading the organisations communications and external relations department has seen Lisa become a regular media commentator, not only delivering Refuge's messages, but also supporting and empowering survivors of domestic abuse to tell their stories, as well as playing a central role in our advocacy to government, ensuring domestic abuse remains high on both the political and public agenda. Lisa has also brought in significant partnerships to Refuge, an ever-flourishing group of talented creatives who offer us pro bono support, as well as driving award winning campaigns. Ruth Davison, Refuge CEO said: 'We are all thrilled that Lisa has received this well-deserved recognition. Since joining Refuge in April, it's become clear just how much Refuge can utilise its brand profile, enabling us to reach women experiencing domestic abuse who need to access our services, whilst delivering real change for the more than 7000 women and children we support on any given day. The Domestic Abuse Act, which became law earlier this year, is testament too, to the way in which the women's sector has been able to collectively hold the governments feet to the fire. Lisa has played a key role in so many of Refuge's achievements to date and this honour is fitting recognition of her passion, hard work and tenacity'. Lisa King said: 'I am truly humbled to receive this honor. When I joined Refuge 18 years ago, I knew very little about the prevalence of domestic abuse in this country. Now, 18 years on, I am so proud to work with so many survivors who have really helped drive change in this country. I also know that behind the horrific statistics we repeat over and over at Refuge, are real women, brave women. Women who have helped change the landscape of the response to domestic abuse. We know we have so much work yet to do, and this honour will help drive me forward to continue the fight, until we can be sure that no woman or child is turned away from accessing the support they need, and that women can live safely, free from abuse. ' ENDS About Refuge: Refuge is the country’s largest single provider of specialist domestic services and supports more than 7,000 women and children on any given day. Refuge also runs the National Domestic Abuse Helpline, which is the gateway to accessing specialist support across the country. More than one in four women in England and Wales experiences domestic abuse at some point in their lifetime, and two women a week are killed by a current or former partner. Please signpost to Refuge’s National Domestic Abuse Helpline 0808 2000 247, available 24 hours a day 7 days a week for free, confidential specialist support. Or visit http://www.nationaldahelpline.org.uk/ to fill in a webform and request a safe time to be contacted or to access live chat (live chat available 3pm-10pm, Monday to Friday). For real time automated guidance on how to secure your personal devices Refuge also has a Tech Safety Tool.

18 years of sharing survivors' stories
18 years of sharing survivors' stories

Our director of communications and external relations Lisa King has been recognised in the Queens Birthday Honours List 2021, with an OBE, for her work at Refuge. Lisa has been at Refuge for 18 years and in that time has been part of many of our key achievements. Lisa tells us what this honour means to her: A woman called Julia Pemberton. lit my passion for raising awareness of the impact of domestic abuse. I never knew Julia because she tragically died before I joined Refuge. But I had the pleasure of meeting her brother, Frank Mullane who told me her story – the story of a woman who knew she was going to be killed by her ex husband, but to whom no one would listen. That story changed me; it shocked me to my core. Why wasn’t Julia listened to, why wasn’t she believed, why did the authorities fail to protect her? Julia’s story, and the hundreds I’ve heard since, keeps the fire alight in me that will continue to burn until all women and children are safe from abuse and can live free from fear. I joined Refuge when I was 30. I’d had a good education, a great career, working for well respected PR agencies. I thought I was informed, educated, worldly-wise. Yet somehow I’d been unaware of the pervasive crime that is domestic abuse. When I first heard the statistic that one in four women would experience domestic abuse at some time in their lives I thought the figure must be an over-exaggeration – surely that couldn’t be correct. Who were, and where were, all these women? But I was wrong. And that figure was correct. I quickly learnt to be less excited about my new job when sharing the news with my friends and loved ones – nearly all of them had stories about abuse they or women they knew had experienced. When I share that statistic now I know there are real women up and down the country behind those statistics. I know how important it is to say, and remember, their names. I also know that these stats are sadly tip of a gigantic iceberg; domestic abuse is the biggest social issue affecting women and children in the UK. A so called ‘civilised’ country. Over the 18 years I’ve worked at Refuge I’ve met countless women who’ve bravely told their stories through our press, campaigning and policy work simply to show other women that there is a way to escape their abusive partners. I’ve been honoured to work with these women and support them to tell their stories. Women who so easily could also have lost their lives as Julia so tragically did. Women who have humbled me and given me the vital education I lacked. Women who replaced my judgment with humility and for whom I have deep respect, for their bravery and courage. Shelia Pound, Marie Hall, Fiona Bowman, Euleen Hope, Wendy Turner Webster, Hollie Woolford, Melanie Clarke, Natasha Saunders, Amy Aldworth – to name but just a few. I salute you all and carry you with me always. My work at Refuge, along with my two amazing sons, has been my rock and rudder through many personal challenges over the years. It has given me purpose and passion and has helped to get me through some of the toughest times of my life. The people I’ve worked with and alongside deserve much recognition too – everything Refuge achieves is a team effort. Refuge really does stand on the shoulders of around 400 giants. Many of those giants work across our frontline services - supporting women every day, giving them a place of safety, helping them to start their lives again, free from abuse and fear. I am so very grateful and honoured to receive this recognition. It has been, and continues to be, the biggest privilege of my life to raise awareness, generate support for and champion change of an issue that still claims the lives of two women every week in England and Wales and to know that the work I’ve been part of has saved and changed lives. This recognition is not just for me – it’s for every woman Refuge has supported. You are an inspiration and I stand with you today, tomorrow and into the future. Thank you for trusting me with your stories and experiences.

As a football fan - and a domestic abuser worker - this is what I want you to know.
As a football fan - and a domestic abuser worker - this is what I want you to know.

As a football fan - and a domestic abuser worker - this is what I want you to know.  Kim Manning-Cooper, Refuge head of communications Tonight, the long-awaited Euros start. The tournament that should have begun last summer, paused because of the pandemic, will be about so much more than the start of a football tournament. It will symbolise the return of a new ‘normality’, fans back in stadiums, groups gathering in pubs and in the sun to watch games, us all debating just how Gareth Southgate will arrange that back line, what formation will he go with, will Grealish make the starting 11? Foden? what about the gelling time with the squad those in the Champions League and Europa cup finals missed out on, and us all willing on Marcus Rashford, the hero to so many for his campaigning on child poverty, hoping his brilliance taking on politicians will be repeated when he takes on some of the best defenders in Europe. The tournament will also do something else - it will signal the England teams defiance to the boos that have accompanied them taking the knee - it will be an unshakeable show of support for equality, an active anti-racist message, and one which has been too long coming. Just take a moment to reflect on the abuse Rashford, for example, received following Utd’s penalty shoot-out defeat in Poland last month. Equality is everything, or it is nothing. I’ve been a football fan my entire life - a Pompey fan. I’ve been through the dizzying highs - and the inevitable lows. I’ve laughed and I’ve cried, I’ve celebrated, and I’ve commiserated. Football can make your weekend and, if the stakes are high enough, can break it too. Didn't Bill Shankly say, tongue in cheek, that football wasn't life or death for him, it was more important than that? The cold reality though, is that I work for a charity where the issue we deal with – domestic abuse – really can be a matter of life and death. 2 women a week across England and Wales are killed by a current or former partner, and 1 in 4 women will experience domestic abuse at some point in their lifetime. That means it is almost a certainty that every person reading this will know someone who is experiencing domestic abuse. I do - I work with women every day for whom domestic abuse is a chilling reality. Football is often linked to domestic abuse, and this causes much misunderstanding and misrepresentation of domestic abuse and the experiences of women and children. You will likely read many headlines about domestic abuse reports increasing during the Euros. Domestic abuse doesn’t happen because the football is on, because England win or lose, because someone is drunk. It doesn’t happen by appointment. It happens all year round - it is a choice a perpetrator makes, stemming from power and control, from gender inequality, which misogyny and patriarchy helps perpetuate. The abuse a woman experiences all year round may perhaps be more invisible, more insidious forms of control – but no less harmful and often far more damaging. That’s what we mustn’t forget. So, while its clear football doesn't cause domestic abuse, like the lockdowns, these tournaments can aggravate pre-existing behaviours. Behaviours that are overwhelmingly more likely to be perpetrated by men, on women. The statistics don't lie. Football stadiums, as I know myself from going to them week in week out for most of my adult life are also filled disproportionately by men. That means that, for many women, the stakes are higher than they were for Eric Dier when he stepped up to take that penalty against Columbia in 2018. There will be many women who, like me, will be glued to the TV and enjoying a summer of football, but there will also be many who won’t be looking forward to the next month, who won’t be cheering every England break, dreaming of a trophy and the chance to be the top team in Europe -and their biggest fear won't be another penalty shoot-out (surely, we can win another?!) - instead many will be dreading the result, dreading a drunk partner coming home, and living in fear. To those women, I want you to know that the organisation I am proud to work for, Refuge, is there for you. We can support you, and make sure you aren’t alone. Of course, domestic abuse, so often thought about as being black eyes and broken bones, can take many different forms. From economic abuse (restricting your ability to work or access cash, running up debts in your name), to tech abuse (location tracking you via your devices, bombarding you with unwanted messages, monitoring your social media), sexual abuse (forcing you to have sex when you don’t want to), and coercive control (controlling your behaviour, who you see, what you wear, where you go). All these things are real, and they happen. I work with women every day who experience these things, and I work with them as they tell their stories to the media in order to help other women. Refuge amplifies their voices so they can support others. But today, the message comes from me - and that message is loud and clear: You are not alone. Our team of expert female staff and volunteers are here for you, and at Refuge we’ve increased the ways in which you can reach us. You can call us free (24 hours a day, 7 days a week) on 0808 2000 247, you can ‘live chat’ (with a person, not a bot) at www.nationaldahelpline.org.uk, and at the same website you can fill in a webform and let us know a safe time to contact you. So, when the teams run out on Friday night at Wembley, and Turkey v Italy starts the Euro 2020 (1) tournament, and when Wales take to the pitch on Saturday, England on Sunday, Scotland on Monday, remember that we are here for you, we will listen, we will hear you, and we will support you. We are just a phone call away. ___ To speak to Refuge's expert helpline team call 0808 2000 247. Our Helpline is free, confidential and open 24/7. You can also find support online at nationaldahelpline.org.uk, including out contact form and Live Chat (open Monday to Friday, 3pm-10pm).

Blog: The Domestic Abuse Bill receives Royal Assent
Blog: The Domestic Abuse Bill receives Royal Assent

Ruth Davison, Refuge's Chief Executive, on the Domestic Abuse Bill becoming law as the Domestic Abuse Act. It is just two weeks since I took the reins at Refuge, the largest single provider of domestic abuse services in the country. As committed feminist and activist, joining a charity which is committed to driving forward a progressive agenda, with supporters and survivors at its core, is hugely exciting. Refuge has been supporting survivors of domestic abuse since 1971 and has won many battles over that time, with another being won today as the Domestic Abuse Bill receives Royal Assent. I’m so proud of my colleagues – and our allies across the sector – for all their work in bringing this Bill to fruition. The Bill could really transform the response to domestic abuse and contains some vital provisions which Refuge congratulates the government on introducing. But sadly, it has also fallen short on some key areas - as an organisation that supports upwards of 7000 women and children on any given day, it is incumbent on Refuge to spell out those omissions and recommit our efforts to campaigning for swift solutions. Refuge, along with sector allies, survivors and supporters, have held the government’s feet to the fire throughout this process and pressed for the Bill to be bold and robust. And it is; in part. Refuge successfully campaigned for the Bill to make threats to share intimate images a crime - a campaign which was won in less than a year. Now the Bill has become law, women will be protected from threats to share intimate image with the intent to cause distress and we are working with the Law Commission to see how the law can be even further strengthened in this area. The Naked Threat campaign success is a huge win and must be celebrated. For the first time, the Bill also explicitly recognises economic abuse as a form of domestic abuse. Refuge and our colleagues at Surviving Economic Abuse have long argued for better support for survivors of economic abuse both via specialist support service provision as well as directly from banks and other institutions across the financial sector. Refuge's work with The Cooperative Bank and Surviving Economic Abuse led to the establishment of the UK Finance first eve Financial Abuse Code of Conduct. Refuge’s recent report showed that nearly 2 out of 5 adults in the UK - approximately 20 million people - have experienced economically abusive behaviour, but only 16% of the population identify it as such. Recognising economically abusive behaviours as domestic abuse is central to ensuring the banking sector can better support women and girls. The Bill also criminalises non-fatal strangulation and abolishes the 'rough sex' defence to murder and cause serious harm. For too long, perpetrators have been able to claim that women's lives have been lost to 'rough sex gone wrong'. Women’s lives being lost to male violence must stop, now, and the ability for men to avoid murder charges for the deaths of women must be halted. Activists, including the campaign group 'we can't consent to this' should rightly be proud of this victory. Refuge is also delighted that the Bill recognises the housing needs of women fleeing abusive partners. Until now, survivors of domestic abuse needed to prove an 'additional vulnerability' before being recognised as being in priority need for homelessness support. We are proud of our work with Crisis and others across the sector to change homelessness law so that all survivors will be automatically considered in priority need. Refuge hopes this will ensure that women experiencing domestic abuse will no longer be faced with the impossible choice of remaining with an abusive partner or facing homelessness. We are also pleased that the Government has committed to a legal duty to assess need for and commission domestic abuse safe accommodation. This is a welcome provision and one which could lead to the much-needed increase in emergency refuge spaces. But the government has committed only £125 million for this purpose - falling way short of the estimated £174 million necessary to ensure provision matches need. If the government is serious about ensuring no woman or child is turned away from accessing specialist services, then it must ensure the duty is fully funded. Regretfully, the funding shortfall is not the only shortcoming of the Bill. While this was a chance to ensure all women experiencing domestic abuse are afforded protection, the government has fallen short of doing this in practice. By failing to adopt the amendment to the Bill which would protect all migrant women, the government has effectively said that not all women are worthy of protection. Refuge knows only too well that migrant women are often locked out of accessing specialist refuge accommodation because they cannot access financial support from the state to support their stay. Insecure immigration status should never be a barrier to accessing support, and the failure to adopt this amendment sends a concerning message to women with no recourse to public funds and insecure or irregular immigration status. Does this mean their lives are less important, their experiences less valid? Refuge calls on the government to quickly right this wrong and ensure migrant survivors can access the services they need easily and quickly. The work of Southall Black Sisters, the Latin American Womens Rights Service and the step up for migrant women campaign should be celebrated in bringing this issue to the fore - and we hope the government will work with them and us to find solutions. The Bill also represented a unique opportunity to change the way Universal Credit is paid. Universal Credit is paid by default into a single account when being claimed with a partner, meaning perpetrators have been able to use this to gain total control of the household income overnight and economically abuse women. Refuge hoped that the government would take this opportunity to reverse this default position and pay this benefit into separate accounts by default for all joint claims. By doing this, and by ensuring advance payments of Universal Credit were paid to survivors of abuse as grants and not loans, the government could have ensured that women fleeing abusive partners did not risk being thrown into abject poverty. Sadly, this opportunity was not taken. We hope that the government will recognise this omission and ensure women who flee abuse are able to do so without the added burden of facing economic insecurity. We will not stop until these vital amendments are made. So, while Refuge and survivors of domestic abuse are rightly delighted to finally see this legislation come to fruition, we cannot help but also feel disappointed. What had the potential to be truly transformational has taken one step forward - but it needs to go much further. The activist in me means that I, and my colleagues at Refuge, won’t stop campaigning until we are assured that all women will be protected, and that the government has done all it can. Until then, you can expect us to keep holding the government to account- that is our job, and one which I’m delighted to be leading. Women’s rights and gender equality should never be a compromise - and our response to it must be bold and radical, if we are going to achieve our aim of ending domestic abuse in our society today.

The Domestic Abuse Bill returning to Parliament - what you need to know
The Domestic Abuse Bill returning to Parliament - what you need to know

On the 5th January, the Domestic Abuse Bill will return to the House of Lords for its Second Reading. This is a hugely important time. This Bill has the potential to be truly transformational, but there is still work to do before that is a reality. Refuge believes that for the Bill to be as bold and effective as it needs to be, in order to better support women and girls, that there are some significant changes that still need to be made. Covid-19 really has pulled into sharp focus the level of domestic abuse across the country and the sheer numbers of women who need the specialist, confidential support that Refuge provides. We hope that this wakeup call will push the government to do everything it can to ensure the Bill is as strong as it can be. On average, two women a week are killed at the hands of their current or ex-partners in England and Wales and one in four women will experience domestic abuse at some point in their life. Women and children’s lives depend on the Government seizing this opportunity and making the Bill the best it can be. What’s in the Bill?  A statutory definition of domestic abuse:  For the first time, there will be a statutory definition of domestic abuse, which also includes economic abuse. Recent research by Refuge and the Co-operative Bank showed that around 16% of all UK adults have identified as having experienced this form of abuse in a current of former relationship - but this same research showed that the numbers may in fact be higher as more than twice this number describe experiences which are economically abusive. Changes to the experiences of survivors in court: The Bill will also prohibit abusers cross-examining survivors in the family courts – something that Refuge, along with our colleagues in the VAWG (Violence Against Women and Girls) sector, has been campaigning for for many years. A legal duty to support survivors:  Most significantly, the Bill will include a legal duty on local authorities to assess need for and commission refuge services. This legal duty could safeguard the existence of refuges, but without sustainable and ring-fenced funding, which ensures there are enough refuge spaces to meet demand, the future of refuges is insecure and unsustainable. While the Government itself estimates domestic abuse to cost society £66 billion a year, and despite the fact that investing in specialist domestic abuse services has been shown to lead to long-term savings, over recent years Refuge has seen funding cuts to 80% of our services, with our refuge services cut by an average of 50%. Research suggests that around £173 million per year is needed to increase the number of refuge spaces available so that no woman or child is turned away. However, the Government disappointingly only committed to £125 million – falling far short of what is needed. Refuge hopes the government will reflect on this need and increase the amount of funding it has committed to, and ensure refuges are able to move away from the funding cliff-edge many find themselves on year after year. Only by securing this long term, sustainable funding, can refuges hire staff and plan for the longer term. What’s missing? There are still many essential measures missing from the Bill, and Refuge believes that in its current form, the Domestic Abuse Bill does not do enough to allow survivors to access the safety and support they need. Protection for image-based abuse:  Our key campaign ask for the next stage of the Bill is for the government to make a very small and swift legal change which will better protect the many thousands of women and girls that Refuge supports every day. Currently, while the sharing of intimate images or films without consent (also known as ‘revenge porn’’) is illegal, threatening to share them is not. Refuge’s specialist tech team identified these threats to share as being an issue faced by many survivors of domestic abuse. Refuge research found that 1 in 14 adults in England and Wales have experienced threats to share intimate images or videos - equivalent to 4.4 million. These threats are most prevalent amongst young people (aged 18-34), with 1 in 7 young women experiencing such threats. 72% of women who received these threats experienced the threat from a current of former partner - with 83% of this group also experiencing other forms of abuse, making this clearly a domestic abuse issue. The Bill gives the government a legislative vehicle by which to swiftly enact the change to the law that survivors need and Refuge is calling on the Government to do just that. Join our campaign and email the government about ending the naked threat here - it takes less than a minute. Changes to Universal Credit (UC):  Women are also at increased risk of economic abuse due to aspects of Universal Credit (UC). UC is paid as one monthly payment, into a single bank account – even if the payment is for a joint UC claim made by two individuals together. For survivors claiming Universal Credit with their abuser, this means that their perpetrator can gain complete control over the entire household income overnight. Survivors can request to split payments between themselves and the perpetrator, but this puts them at serious risk of further abuse, as perpetrators will always know the request has been made via their online account, or when the payment goes down. When making a new claim for UC, there is a minimum five-week delay between applying for and receiving payment. This leaves survivors who have fled abuse in extreme poverty while they await their first UC payment, having already left their homes with little money and few possessions. Refuge wants the Bill to include provision for making separate payments of Universal Credit by default, rather than women having to make a specific application and also for any advance payments (ordinarily given as loans) to women fleeing abusive partners to be given as grants, which do not need to be repaid. We need to ensure that women are able to safely flee abusive partners without added concerns about economic stability. A gendered definition:  Refuge also hopes that the government will ensure the Domestic Abuse Bill carries a true ‘gendered definition’ of domestic abuse. Domestic abuse is, at its core, a gendered crime which stems from patriarchy, gender inequality and power and control over women. The overwhelming majority of victims of domestic abuse are women, while the overwhelming majority of perpetrators are men. The definition of domestic abuse must be grounded in this reality so we are calling for the Government to amend the definition of domestic abuse in the Bill to do this. Protection for migrant survivors: The Bill also fails to protect migrant survivors. Large numbers of migrant women are not entitled to housing benefit because of their immigration status, and therefore unable to use this entitlement to financially support a stay in refuge. Many charities, including Refuge, do all they can to support migrant survivors, but a lack of funding sadly means too many women are left without support. We are calling for strengthened legislation which supports all women and children affected by domestic abuse – regardless of their immigration status. Women who have ‘no recourse to public funds’ must not be prevented from accessing the support that they need. It is vital that this is addressed via the Domestic Abuse Bill. Refuge wants the Domestic Abuse Bill to be truly transformative and ultimately to save women’s lives. In order to do this, we are calling for Threats to share intimate images being made a criminal offence Recognition of the reality of domestic abuse through a gendered definition of domestic abuse Women to be able to access the money they need to be as safe as possible in relationships and when they are ready to leave perpetrators by implementing separate Universal Credit payments by default and to exempt survivors of domestic abuse from repaying Universal Credit advances. These advances must be given as grants and not loans. Make this a Bill for all survivors, regardless of their immigration status by amending immigration law so that all migrant survivors can access financial support and other benefits, regardless of immigration status or visa type. Women with ‘no recourse to public funds’ must be able to access the specialist support they need. A commitment to ensure the legal duty to fund refuges provides adequate ring fenced and sustainable funding, to ensure that refuges can be placed on a secure financial footing, able to make longer term plans and ultimately increase the number of bed space available so that all women seeking safety and support can access it. This is crucial to ensure that refuges are able to move away from the funding cliff edge that many of them find themselves each financial year. Austerity cuts have decimated specialist services and this must be addressed via the Domestic Abuse Bill.

Refuge reassures survivors that they are not alone over the Christmas period
Refuge reassures survivors that they are not alone over the Christmas period

Ahead of the holiday period, Lisa King, director of communications and external relations at Refuge said: "Domestic abuse is the biggest social issue affecting women and children and has never been more of an issue than it is now, as COVID-19 restrictions have forced women and children to stay at home with their abusers. With a locked-down Christmas fast approaching, the end of 2020 will be a very challenging time for women and children experiencing domestic abuse across the country. Refuge wants every woman experiencing abuse this Christmas to know – if you need help, you are not alone. Call our Freephone National Domestic Abuse Helpline on 0808 2000 247, any time of day or night, to speak to one of our highly trained female Helpline advisors who can provide you with emotional support and information on your rights and options. Alternatively, visit www.nationaldahelpline.org.uk to use our webform to request a safe time to be called back or access our live chat service, Mon-Fri, 3pm-10pm. Our message is clear, Refuge is here twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. You are not alone."

Year End Statement from Hetti Barkworth-Nanton
Year End Statement from Hetti Barkworth-Nanton

This year has been my first as Chair of Refuge and what a profound year it has been! We know that lockdown has significantly increased the instances of domestic abuse and it has been even more important that women and children have confidence that help is available when they need it. Our work is not possible without the continued efforts of our partner organisations – all other domestic abuse specialist services, the police, social services, GPs, hospitals, the Home Office and local government, and the general public. Without teamwork we could not identify, protect and support those suffering abuse, and for that reason I would like to express thanks to you all. It’s been a year where we’ve also seen the progress of important national legislation on domestic abuse and I am proud Refuge’s voice has been heard alongside many others, with survivor lead experiences guiding our law makers. There is much more work to do, but I am pleased that this crucial issue is now part of the national conversation. Last but by no means least I want to pay tribute to each and every member of staff and volunteer at Refuge, all of whom have stepped up in these terrible and challenging times. I would like to send many thanks to our Refuge patrons and ambassadors, donors, corporate partners, and of course the wonderful Trustees I work alongside - without whom so much of our work would not be possible. It has been wonderful to see your commitment to our work. I am confident that better times are ahead for us, as the vaccine offers hope of a return to normal life soon. But I am determined to make sure that we learn lessons from how we worked during lockdown and we ensure, together, that we are able to help even more people into a better life in 2021.

Message from Sandra Horley on her retirement
Message from Sandra Horley on her retirement

Today is my final day as Chief Executive of Refuge, an organisation I have led, and loved, for nearly four decades. A lot has changed in the world during this time – and at Refuge – but one thing remains the same: domestic abuse is a horror that millions of women around the world live with every day. Forty-two years ago, I first started working in women’s refuges at the Haven Project in the Midlands. Back then, it was generally accepted by society that a man had a right to hit his partner and a woman just had to put up with it. Abused women (or “battered wives” as they were labelled then) had no money, nowhere to go, and no one to turn to for support.  Refuge, and others, led the march - step by step, towards change. As I retire, I am proud to reflect on what Refuge has achieved, but there is still so much work to do.  That is why the time is right for me to step aside and hand the reins to others so they can build on Refuge’s achievements.  I am glad that as I leave the charity, it is stronger than ever, financially secure, with dedicated staff and a talented senior leadership team who will ensure that no woman or child is turned away from the help they need. At Refuge we have been tenacious, resilient and not afraid to speak truth to power. I am confident that every team will continue to advocate powerfully and effectively for the women and children we support and whose safety and wellbeing are always the priority. I will never forget one of the first women I supported. A woman whose husband had taken a hammer and chisel to her face. 250 stitches needed to be administered and there was no skin on her face which was not stitched together. I fed her liquids through a straw. It was at that moment that I made myself a promise – that I would always use my voice for women whose voices were not heard. That I would do whatever it took to keep them safe. More than four decades later, domestic abuse has never been higher on the political or public agenda, and I am incredibly humbled to have played my part in making that the case.  But it was by no means easy. Sometimes I was threatened and followed by perpetrators.  Men would try and break into refuges. Policemen – incredible but true – would bring abusers carrying a bunch of flowers to the door of the refuge and say:  “He says he is sorry, now can you fetch his wife so he can take her back home?”  I was constantly challenging the police and governments to improve their responses to domestic abuse. Refuge’s roots are in Chiswick, where the world’s first safe house was opened by Erin Pizzey in 1971. Nothing like this had ever existed before. I became the director of the Chiswick refuge in 1983 and was shocked by the conditions. Women escaping abusive men had flocked to our doors and this safe space was full to overflowing. Although the conditions were far from perfect - a rundown old house, with women and children sleeping head to toe on mattresses on the floor – at least they were safe. Even with cockroaches, mice and holes in the wall, the refuge provided safety, shelter and support for women when they were most in need. Women told me that living in squalor was better than being terrified at home with a violent partner.  I am so glad that today Refuge provides safe accommodation in clean, well-maintained and healthy environments - another achievement over the years. . Under my leadership we launched Refuge under its new name in 1993 in the presence of the late Diana, Princess of Wales.  Now, nearly five decades on from its humble but important beginnings, Refuge has grown from one house in Chiswick to become the largest single provider of specialist domestic abuse services, supporting more than 6,500 women and children on any given day. I am immensely proud to have overseen this growth. When I first started, I had one colleague and a handful of volunteers. I admitted thousands of women and children into the refuge and listened to their experiences.  In between supporting traumatised women, I began negotiating for funds from the local authority, the Greater London Council and the government, approaching benefactors and donors to ensure our doors stayed open.  The original Helpline was in the refuge lounge, but calls were diverted to my bedside telephone when I went home in the evenings and at weekends. I am so proud of the professional Helpline Refuge now runs, after these basic beginnings. At the start of my journey I was a lone voice, and the police simply did not want to know about domestic violence. They dismissed it as a “domestic”, a private matter, to be kept behind closed doors. There was no government funding and no adequate homelessness legislation to give survivors a right to housing. Back then women leaving violent men were told they had made themselves ‘intentionally homeless’ and therefore not entitled to accommodation or they had to provide proof of violence before they could access emergency accommodation. Now, domestic abuse is rightly seen as a crime, and it has been pushed up the political agenda. The Domestic Abuse Bill is soon to return to the House of Lords, following its passage through the Commons. My early days in the Chiswick refuges were long, and they were tough. But together we started to move things forward. In 1984 the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) was passed giving police more powers to arrest in order to protect a vulnerable person. In 1990 the Home Office issued a Force Order to police forces in England and Wales, recommending that they adopt a more interventionist approach, arresting perpetrators to protect and support victims.  I was invited by the Home Office to explore the Canadian Government’s approach to addressing domestic abuse, which led to the establishment of the first domestic violence units in police stations in London. In 1990 we fought successfully to make rape in marriage illegal. I gave speech after speech, willing duty bearers to do more. Refuge has achieved so much. Not only has it grown its refuges and community-based services, but it has also enhanced the Home Office funded National Domestic Abuse Helpline. Every single minute of every single hour of every single day, women can call Refuge’s specialist team and receive confidential support. Whether they are ready to flee their abusive partner and need emergency accommodation, or they need guidance on accessing the legal system, or simply want to talk and be heard, Refuge’s team is ready to listen, and to help. If there is one message I want every woman reading this to see and remember, it is that you are not alone. Help really does exist, and lives can be saved, and changed. Refuge has become a modern, professional organisation, and I am very proud that it has achieved British Standards Institute (BSI) ISO9001 accreditation.  In 2016 the New Economics Foundation (NEF) carried out an independent evaluation of social return on investment in Refuge’s services.  Their findings were, in their words, “extraordinary, that for every £1 invested, clients, their families and society at large reap a reward equivalent to £4.94”. Further, NEF’s team was able to calculate that if Refuge’s services had not been available, it would have cost the State an additional £5.9 million a year. Since Covid-19, we have taken extra steps to ensure women can contact the Helpline in different ways, by digitising it, including implementing a live-chat facility. As technology becomes more advanced, so must our abilities to communicate with the women who need us. We were also able to secure funds from the Government to help us do this swiftly, including funding from the National Emergencies Fund which meant that our services were not compromised during the necessary Covid-19 restrictions. Within days of lockdown being announced, our Helpline was running remotely, meaning women who needed us could still reach us during a pandemic. Refuge’s growth has not been without challenge. Sometimes it has felt like one step forward and two steps back. Specialist domestic abuse services have never been properly funded – often running with hand to mouth budgeting. Austerity cuts led to a reduction in services, with the real victims of these cuts being the women and children who needed them most. But Refuge did not let these cuts stop us. While it is true that 80 per cent of Refuge’s services have seen funding cuts since 2011, and that some areas of the country have no refuge provision at all, we have increased our support to women and children. Often, Refuge’s generous supporters have stepped in when Government funding was not forthcoming.  Major donors have stood shoulder to shoulder with me over many years, making long-term gifts to keep services running. Other supporters up and down the country make a monthly direct debit donation. Every single person who has ever donated to Refuge has helped a woman or child in need. From the bottom of my heart, thank you. There has also been the support of our wonderful and talented patrons. So many people with big profiles and even bigger hearts have helped us along the way - people who have been able to help us amplify the voices of the women we work with and put domestic abuse on the political map and on the public agenda. If I named every single one of them I would probably need several more months until retiring – but I cannot retire without mentioning people like the late Diana, Princess of Wales who stood alongside us when we needed her, Dame Helen Mirren, Sir Patrick Stewart OBE, who has always been so generous with his time and profile. As a survivor of abuse as a child his story has undoubtedly helped many young people deal with the trauma they have experienced. I am grateful to Dame Stella Rimington, my mentor and Refuge patron, for her unstinting support and Baroness Helena Kennedy, QC, former trustee and patron, who has championed our cause for decades and asked me to be the first expert witness to give evidence on ‘Battered Woman Syndrome’ in a British court. My heartfelt thanks to Helena Bonham-Carter, Jo Brand, Olivia Colman and Fiona Bruce, brilliant women who have given their time over the years to stand in solidarity with the women we support as well as raise much needed funds. During my time at Refuge, I have been awarded two honours, an OBE, followed by a CBE.  I am proud to have these letters after my name but more important, they reflect the new recognition that domestic abuse and violence against women and children, matters. As policies and legislation have changed, Refuge’s message has remained clear. Domestic abuse is a crime, women and children have a right to live safely and without fear. Domestic abuse is rooted in power and control, and gender inequality. To challenge domestic abuse, and other forms of violence against women - modern slavery, rape and sexual abuse, honour based violence and forced prostitution - we must challenge the patriarchal culture which perpetuates these crimes. As I stand back from my role, I leave a message for the Government: the imminent Domestic Abuse Bill has the potential to be hugely transformational. However, that potential will only be realised if it makes a meaningful difference to the women and children it is meant to protect. I hope you will show the courage and leadership to ensure this Bill is as bold as it can be and that it also protects migrant survivors who have no recourse to public funds; that the Bill recognises the gendered nature of abuse - almost always perpetrated by men, against women; and it ensures that women have the resources to flee and are able to access emergency housing. Most important, I hope the Bill provides sustainable, ring-fenced funding for women’s refuges. I am hopeful that the Government's commitment to providing a legal duty to fund women’s refuges will come to fruition. I know the political will is there, I have seen it first-hand.  We continue to co-operate with government departments and former and current Home Secretaries: Jacqui Smith, Theresa May, Amber Rudd and Priti Patel have all come to Refuge to learn more about the issues surrounding domestic abuse and all forms of violence against women and girls.  Now, we need action and I stand ready to support making this a reality however I can. I may not be leading the charge anymore, but I am on the side-lines, ready to do what is needed for women and children, and I always will be. As I step back and reflect on our achievements at Refuge, I know how much I owe to the incredible and committed staff with whom I have had the privilege to work - many have been with us for decades. The honours I have received are dedicated to you all, on the frontline, and to the women needing Refuge’s support in the past, present and future. You are my inspiration. I hope for a world in which no woman faces abuse, where every woman can live in safety and without fear and where refuges are not needed. Until then I am grateful that Refuge is the fine, life-changing and life-saving organisation that it is. We have come a long way, but there is still a long way to go.  I am enormously grateful to all of you who have accompanied me on this journey – volunteers, staff, donors, civil servants, politicians, Refuge trustees and patrons.  I am confident that you will continue to succeed in protecting and preserving the rights of women and children. Au revoir. Thank you. Dame Sandra Horley 31 October 2020

Joint Open Letter to the Editor of The Sun
Joint Open Letter to the Editor of The Sun

Dear Victoria Newton,   We are writing as organisations who work to end violence against women and girls and provide services and support to survivors of violence and abuse, including those in BME and migrant communities. The misjudged and irresponsible headline on the front page of The Sun this morning has alarmed and disappointed us.   Responding to a woman disclosing her experiences of domestic abuse and sexual assault by giving a platform to her perpetrator to trivialise the abuse he subjected her to is irresponsible and dangerous.   Allowing the front page to promote the lack of contrition an abuser has is inexcusable and unforgiveable. This is especially the case during this period of lockdown, where demand to Refuge’s National Domestic Abuse Helpline in England has increased by 66 percent. Other helplines, forms of online support and specialist services for survivors across the country have seen a steep rise in demand and the rate at which women are being killed by men appears to have doubled.   Every day perpetrators of domestic abuse minimise their pattern of control as ‘just a slap’ and constantly tell survivors that there is no point asking for help as no one will believe them and no one will care. That it is her fault. That she deserves it. Survivors of abuse seeing the front page of The Sun today will see these incorrect and dangerous messages being reinforced.   The Sun has previously undertaken some positive work to raise awareness of the impact of abuse on survivors and even campaigned for funding for specialist refuges. Today’s front page undermines all this and is hypocritical.   In an effort to try and undo some of the damage you have caused, you should retract the story, issue an apology and dedicate future front pages to advertising the services and support available to survivors. Everyone who has experienced violence and abuse should know that there are people who will listen to them, believe them and recognise domestic abuse and sexual assault as the abhorrent, traumatic crimes that they are.   Your actions are a retrograde step on the road to eliminating gender-based violence.   Yours sincerely,   Jane Keeper, Director of Operations, Refuge Sarah Green, Director, End Violence Against Women Coalition Liz Thompson, Director of External Relations, SafeLives Lucy Hadley, Campaigns & Policy Manager, Women's Aid Federation of England Pragna Patel, Director, Southall Black Sisters Guddy Burnet, CEO of Standing Together and Co-founder of the Domestic Abuse Housing Alliance (DAHA) Jemima Olchawski, CEO, Agenda Donna Covey, CEO, AVA Sara Kirkpatrick, CEO, Welsh Women’s Aid Diana Nammi, Executive Director, IKWRO - Women's Rights Organisation Frank Mullane, MBE, CEO, AAFDA Fiona Dwyer, CEO, Solace Women’s Aid Natasha Walter, Director, Women for Refugee Women Priscilla Dudhia, Policy Coordinator (Destitution), Women for Refugee Women Estelle du Boulay, Director, Rights of Women Nicola Sharp-Jeffs, Chief Executive, Surviving Economic Abuse Medina Johnson, CEO, IRISi James Watson-O’Neill, CEO, SignHealth Jo Todd, CEO, Respect Harriet Wistrich, Director, Centre for Women’s Justice

National Domestic Abuse Helpline website to be accessible free of data charges
National Domestic Abuse Helpline website to be accessible free of data charges

Refuge welcomes the agreement reached between the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and mobile phone providers to make access to websites which are providing support during the Covid-19 crisis data free of charge. Commenting on the announcement Refuge's Director of communications and external relations, Lisa King said: "Since lockdown began, Refuge has seen a spike of more than 950% in visits to its www.nationaldahelpline.org.uk -  many thousands of women every day need the specialist support Refuge provides and now more than ever need to access this information digitally. We know that during periods of isolation the window in which women experiencing domestic abuse are able to call our Freephone Helpline becomes narrower -  so ensuring women are able to access Refuge’s National Domestic Abuse Helpline website which hosts our contact form and live chat support, free of charge and without using their data allowances, is an important step in ensuring more women are able to access the support they need."