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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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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."

Domestic Abuse Bill 2020
Domestic Abuse Bill 2020

Last Tuesday, the Domestic Abuse Bill re-started its journey in Parliament to become law. After significant delays due to Brexit, the prorogation of Parliament and the general election at the end of last year, the Bill is back. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for the Government to transform its response to domestic abuse and make sure that survivors and their children have access to the vital support they need. On average, two women a week are killed at the hands of their current or ex-partners in England and Wales. Women and children’s lives depend on the Government seizing this opportunity and making the Bill the best it can be. For the first time, there will be a statutory definition of domestic abuse, which also includes economic abuse. Research by Refuge and the Co-Operative Bank showed that 1 in 5 people have experienced this type of abuse, and we are pleased that the definition will reflect this dangerous aspect of coercive and controlling behaviour. The Bill will also prohibit abusers cross-examining survivors in the family courts – something that Refuge, along with our colleagues in the VAWG sector, has been committed to addressing for years. Most importantly, the Bill will include a legal duty on local authorities to assess need for and commission refuge services. At present, there is no requirement to provide this life-saving provision, which has ultimately led to the situation we find ourselves in now – with 64% of refuge referrals being declined last year, many due to lack of space. This duty could safeguard the existence of refuges, but without sustainable funding, the future of refuges will not be secure. The Government estimates that domestic abuse costs society £66 billion a year. Over recent years, Refuge has seen funding cuts to 80% of our services, with our refuge services cut by an average of 50%. It is essential that the Government commits enough funding to ensure that the number of refuge spaces increases. 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. Refuge will be fighting for this funding and we will be calling on our supporters to help us do this. There are still many essential measures missing from the Bill, and Refuge feels that in its current form, the Domestic Abuse Bill does not do enough to allow survivors to access the safety and support they need. Almost one in three women aged 16-59 in England and Wales will experience domestic abuse in their lifetime and survivors face inordinate difficulties in securing appropriate, affordable, long-term housing after fleeing abuse. For survivors who do not have children, the problem is particularly acute as they frequently do not qualify as being in priority need, meaning local authorities have no legal duty to house them. Women are also at increased risk of economic abuse due to aspects of Universal Credit. UC is paid in arrears, as one monthly payment, into a single bank account – even if the payment is for a joint UC claim made by two individuals together. 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. 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 or possessions. Refuge has also observed how modern technology is giving perpetrators ever-increasing ways to stalk, isolate and control women. Our specialist tech abuse team works with survivors that are experiencing abuse facilitated through the use of technology, with numerous women reporting that their partner or ex-partner has threatened to disclose intimate images. This is a currently a gap in the law. Whilst actually disclosing an intimate image or film without consent is a crime, more commonly known as the ‘revenge porn’ offence, threatening to do so isn’t in England and Wales – although it already is in Scotland and many other countries. In Refuge’s experience, threats to share intimate images of survivors can have devastating, long-term consequences. Until sharing intimate images without consent is explicitly outlawed, these threats will continue to be used by abusers as a tool of coercive control. The Bill also fails to protect migrant survivors. Large numbers of migrant women are not entitled to housing benefit, and therefore unable to financially support a stay in refuge. Many charities 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. 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: • Increased, sustained funding for refuges – at least £170 million is needed each year to prevent women and children being turned away • Protect survivors of tech abuse by making threats to share intimate images a criminal offence. • Recognise the reality of domestic abuse through a gendered definition of domestic abuse. • Protect women made homeless due to domestic abuse by making all survivors of domestic abuse automatically qualify as being in priority need for housing assistance. • Reduce economic abuse and ensure women can access the money they need to leave perpetrators by implementing separate Universal Credit payments by default and to exempt survivors of domestic abuse from repaying Universal Credit advances. • Make this a Bill for all survivors, regardless of their immigration status by amending t immigration law so that all migrant survivors can access financial support and other benefits, regardless of immigration status or visa type.

National Domestic Abuse Helpline
National Domestic Abuse Helpline

We are delighted to announce that as of 1st November 2019 we will run the National Domestic Abuse Helpline as the sole provider of this vital service. We have increased our team of Helpline experts who will be able to answer more calls than ever before.* We will provide more survivors with access to emergency and other domestic abuse services across the country, as well as provide essential emotional and practical information. Calls are confidential and our support is non-judgmental and non directive – we will not tell women what to do but empower them to understand their options. The Helpline runs every hour of the day, every day of the year. At the end of November we will launch an exciting digital platform which has been designed by the needs and experiences of survivors and informed by our amazing team of expert Helpline workers. We will evolve ongoing our Helpline services, launching new digital products and support tools over the months to come as we listen to survivors and others who need to access support. Domestic abuse is a crime. It is the biggest social issue impacting on women and children in this country. We want all women to know that they are not alone and that Refuge is here 24/7 to support them and will give them access to hundreds of specialist domestic abuse services across the country. Freephone National Domestic Abuse Helpline – 0808 2000 247 *On average the Helpline received around 250 calls a day in 2018/19.              

Spotlight on Warrington
Spotlight on Warrington

Our Warrington Domestic Abuse Service comprises four Independent Domestic Violence Advisors (IDVA), one outreach worker and one young person’s advocate. As part of this vital service we also run a local helpline. We are delighted that over the period of time our team of experts have seen great growth in the numbers of clients we support. The team is based in an office close to the town centre but our IDVAs also co locate across two hospitals to ensure early intervention to support women experiencing abuse. The team also delivers training to frontline professionals such as doctors and nursing staff on a one-to-one and group basis. Our outreach worker runs a domestic abuse support group called Wings, a group for women, where we talk about domestic abuse, its impact on victims, children and parenting, and what healthy relationships look like. We receive very positive feedback from clients who attend the group for example: “I wanted to say a heartfelt thank you for your support.  It has given me the strength to draw the line and battle on to freedom.” “To the Wings support group, thank you for helping my daughter to understand what has happened to her.  We have seen her grow in confidence, return to her usual self, and be relentless for seeking help with my granddaughter In short, she has her wings and she is raring to fly.” Our young person’s advocate works with young people aged from 12-17 and is often based within local schools. Following positive feedback from clients and the schools, our young person’s advocate has been asked to promote the service at a wellbeing fair. Parents will then be invited to attend and will be able to discuss support for them and their children.

Mayor fundraises for Richmond refuge
Mayor fundraises for Richmond refuge

With financial support from government agencies becoming increasingly precarious, community support is vital to the continuation of Refuge’s services. Refuge provides 15 units of emergency accommodation in Richmond and is a fantastic example of people coming together to support women and children escaping domestic violence and abuse. We are incredibly grateful to Richmond Mayor Ben Khosa who has selected Refuge as his 2019 charity. As of May 2019 Mayor Khosa has raised over £20,000 in support of Refuge through events such as the multi-faith Peace and Unity event, cycling and marathon events and skydiving for which we are hugely grateful. Mayor Khosa said “It is one of the privileges of the Mayor to be able to meet and thank the many charities and wonderful volunteers in our delightful borough who give their time so freely to enrich the lives of others without any expectations of reward or recognition.” In addition to the two refuges in Richmond, we also provide advocacy-based services through independent domestic violence advocates (IDVAs) and outreach workers, who provide women and children with the support they need to build a new life free from fear and abuse. The community support Refuge receives in Richmond can also be seen with our partner agencies, many with whom we co-locate, for example: the Council Housing Department, drug and alcohol services, Children’s Centres, the Police Station, Civic Centre and Local Advice Centre. Detective inspector Matt East said: “[Refuge’s] support and guidance to our staff on a daily basis, has aided them (along with myself) to a massive extent. Your support and guidance to the survivors of domestic abuse also cannot be fully measured, but needless to say it has been exemplary and 1st class…Your team are always very professional, focused and motivated to do the best thing for the victim and survivors.” With ongoing support in communities we are better equipped to help survivors and address violence against women and girls. Thanks to the community support we have in Richmond the service receives a high rate of self-referrals; for example in our outreach services this is 26% compared to 15% across Refuge’s outreach services nationally. “I will always tell people what this service has done for me – it was the biggest help I received since being in this country.” Survivor of abuse who accessed support in Richmond.

New Refuge Service in Hillingdon
New Refuge Service in Hillingdon

We are delighted to announce that we opened a new refuge service in Hillingdon at the beginning of March. This service can accommodate up to seven women and 14 children at any one time. The service is staffed by a deputy manager, two refuge workers and a child support worker. During the first few months, the staff have been busy supporting residents, making links with external agencies and agreeing referral pathways so that our clients can easily access any additional support they might need. The child support worker is running activities for children such as cooking and homework club as well as days out during the school holidays. Our clients have been enjoying regular house meetings, coffee mornings and various activities including a summer get together for Eid and a Tech Abuse Empowerment Workshop. As well as providing support for women and children, we are making various improvements to the refuge building to make it as comfortable as possible. The lounge and some of the bedrooms have been redecorated and refurnished. The utility room has had a makeover making it easier to use as well as creating more space. The garden has been cleared and children’s equipment repaired so that all families can spend more time playing outside. We have been approached by the local Middlesex Federation of the Women’s Institute who have fundraised for the refuge.  We plan to spend the money they have kindly raised on a new dining table.  We’d like to say a special thank you for their support.

The Transformative Power of Environments on Survivors’ Recovery
The Transformative Power of Environments on Survivors’ Recovery

A refuge is so much more than just a roof over a woman’s head At the beginning of the year Refuge won a bid to develop its first psychologically informed refuge service in Westminster, London. The service comprises five refuges which support 35 single women or families at any one time. As we develop this service we have been giving much thought to creating an environment in the refuges which provides a culture of well-being and a sense of physical and emotional safety for clients and staff. Our specialist staff have consulted women about the refuge environment – with a view to transforming these temporary homes to be as welcoming, safe and supportive as possible. Initial feedback from survivors explained that the way information was displayed in the houses made them feel more institutional than homely, so we have worked to find other ways to communicate key information and fill the house walls with art and pictures, homely comfortable furniture – especially good quality beds. Colour schemes have also been chosen carefully in an effort to create a welcoming, tranquil environment. Working in partnership with our corporate fundraising team we have secured additional support for the service thanks to John Lewis & Partners generosity. The community team at John Lewis & Partners, Oxford Street, have gone above and beyond in their efforts to support this service which culminated in a £10,000 grant to spend on furnishings. Residents are delighted with this fabulous award. Thanks to McGlashan’s Interiors, a London-based, family business, owned and lead by Andrea McGlashan, many other furnishings have been donated. Andrea’s hands on support has transformed the refuges to become beautiful welcoming homes which has been much appreciated by all the residents. This project is work in process and will evolve over time as we continue to consult with women to ensure we create the most welcoming and supportive environment as we possibly can.

Refuge response to proroguing Parliment
Refuge response to proroguing Parliment

In response to the Government’s announcement that it intends to suspend Parliament in September, Sandra Horley CBE, chief executive of national domestic abuse charity Refuge said: ‘The announcement today from the Prime Minister that the current parliamentary session will end in mid-September has the potential to erase years of work towards the Domestic Abuse Bill. The Bill, introduced by Theresa May and awaiting a second reading, aims to put in place much needed changes to current legislation and save lives. Legislation introduced in the last parliamentary session can be very simply 'carried over’. We hope that the Prime Minister will make an urgent and unequivocal commitment to ensure the Domestic Abuse Bill is carried over. While parliament is currently dominated by Brexit, we must not let this crucial piece of legislation, years in the making, be pushed into the long grass. Every week across England and Wales, two women are killed by their current or former partner. Addressing violence against women and girls must be a priority and the Domestic Abuse Bill is the vehicle by which the Government can cement its commitment to so doing. We hope that the Prime Minister will publicly confirm that his Government’s commitment to addressing violence against women and girls is unwavering by making a clear commitment to ensure the Domestic Abuse Bill will be moved into the next parliamentary session. For more information contact the Refuge press team on 0207 395 7731. About Refuge: Refuge is a frontline service provider. It runs specialist domestic violence services across the country and opened the world’s first refuge in 1971. On any given day, it supports more than 6,500 women and children escaping all forms of violence against women and girls.

Refuge's Top 5 Asks for the Domestic Abuse Bill
Refuge's Top 5 Asks for the Domestic Abuse Bill

Refuge has played an essential role in influencing the content of the Domestic Abuse Bill and continues to campaign for the changes our front line staff and the survivors we support tell us they need. The Government’s stated objective for the Bill is to transform the response to domestic abuse – which Refuge is fully behind. However, we are concerned that the Bill in its current form focuses too much on the justice system and policing, leaving out swathes of policy areas that need reform in order to better protect, and meet the needs of, survivors. Listening to the survivors we support and our front line staff, we identified five priority areas for change:   Universal Credit – the single payment structure of Universal Credit facilitates and exacerbates economic abuse by potentially handing over control of the household’s entire income overnight. Additionally, the automatic five-week delay in receiving the first Universal Credit impoverishes women and their children at the point of fleeing, making women dependent on food banks and other charitable resources. As such, Refuge is calling for separate Universal Credit payments by default and for survivors to be exempt from paying back any advanced Universal Credit payments they access while waiting for the first payment. Read our briefing on this issue here.   Access to Housing – survivors who have fled their home in order to escape abuse are not automatically entitled to priority need for settled housing. This makes it incredibly difficult for survivors without dependent children to rebuild their lives in a new home, and can serve to trap them with their abuser. We are calling for extending priority need for housing to all survivors fleeing abuse. Read our briefing on this issue here.   Gendered definition of domestic abuse – the Domestic Abuse Bill will define domestic abuse in law for the first time ever, including economic abuse. This definition will be instrumental in informing the public, and professionals tasked with responding to domestic abuse. Refuge therefore thinks it is essential that the definition reflects the reality of this crime, i.e. that it disproportionately impacts women. Refuge is therefore calling for the definition of domestic abuse to be gendered. Read our briefing on this issue here.   Migrant women – a huge number of migrant women have ‘no recourse to public funds’, barring them from accessing benefits, including housing support, which is essential when fleeing abuse. Some women, i.e. those on spousal visas, can apply for the Destitute Domestic Violence Concession (DDVC), an exemption from the no recourse to public funds category for three months, while they apply for indefinite leave to remain. Refuge is calling for protection from VAWG to be accessible to all women, regardless of immigration status, by extending the DDVC to apply to all women. Read our briefing on this issue here.   Funding for specialist services – specialist domestic abuse service provision does not meet demand, with women and children turned away from refuges due to lack of space every day. Refuge is calling for a long-term, comprehensive, sustainable funding system, so that all survivors and their children can access the support they need. Read our briefing one this issue here.   Read more on the The Joint Pre-Legislative Domestic Abuse Bill Committee report. Having listened to Refuge they have made some strong recommendations to the Government on the Bill.