Published on 20 Nov 2014 Sections

#SOSvigil at Downing Street calls for refuges to be ‘saved’

A vigil calling on MPs to protect domestic violence refuges is held at Downing Street, as new figures reveal women’s refuges are being forced to turn away a third of referrals due to cuts.

In the 18 years that she was abused, Mandy Wood, 48, was turned away a number of times from refuges because there was not enough services in her area.

The mother of X Factor star Jahmene Douglas, who is an ambassador for charity Women’s Aid, told Channel 4 News that the services have “literally kept me alive”.

However a YouGov survey for Women’s Aid has found that nearly a third of referrals to refuges across the country were turned down last year because of lack of space.

#SOSvigil

The charity’s SOS campaign is urging politicians to commit to preserving the national network of specialist domestic violence refuges, after figures from the charity’s database of refuges revealed that England lost 17 per cent of specialist refuges due to funding cuts and poor commissioning [1]. Nearly a third (31 per cent) of referrals to refuges across the country were turned down last year because of lack of space, according to the Women’s Aid annual survey 2013-14.

Staff members and supporters of Women’s Aid handed a petition with more than 37,000 signatures to Downing Street on Thursday evening, in a bid to protect services from further cuts (see photo above).

A series of candlelit vigils around the country are being organised by the charity, which is calling for the government to act urgently to save refuges.

Another YouGov survey for the charity polled over 2,000 voters’ attitudes to government policy, and found that 69 per cent believe that policies to protect survivors of domestic violence reflect how much a party genuinely cares about women’s interest.

‘I don’t want to bury another child’

“When you leave is the most dangerous time,” Mrs Wood said.

“I was found and threatened with torture. And he carried out the threats, even from within the prison,” Mrs Wood said, who tragically lost her other son Daniel to suicide after witnessing his father’s abuse.

“The consequences of [the government’s] rules we have to live by. I don’t want to bury another child.”

Recent research by Women’s Aid shows that:

  • Nearly a third (31 per cent) of referrals to refuges across the country were turned down last year because of lack of space
  • England has lost one in six (17 per cent) specialist refuges since 2010 due to funding cuts and poor commissioning
  • Seven in 10 (69 per cent) of voters feel that policies to protect survivors of domestic violence reflect how much a party genuinely cares about women’s interests
  • Six in 10 (61 per cent) voters feel the government should do more to preserve the national network of domestic violence refuges for women and children

Voters’ concerns

Polly Neate, Women’s Aid chief executive, said that research showed voters understand how vital the services are.

“The public are now saying, very clearly, that a government’s response to domestic violence is a standard against which their attitudes to women will be measured,” she said.

“More than 35,000 people have now signed our SOS campaign petition demanding the nationwide network of refuges be protected: parties cannot afford to ignore continued cuts which close vital services and leave women at risk from violent partners.”

‘Stuck’

Mrs Wood said that by cutting services, vulnerable women were being exposed to high levels of danger. She said that the government were actually paying more to “repair” people through hospital treatments, and counselling.

“You have to get out that minute. With children you’re stuck. So you really need a base. And Christmas is the worst. If you don’t have anything, you have to go back.”

A terrorist would get a life sentence for torture, but a partner gets away with it. Mandy Wood

The Women of Power Award winner has questioned the government’s response to women’s services as a “reflection” of their attitudes towards women:

“A terrorist would get a life sentence for torture, but a partner gets away with it.”

‘Dying by ignorance’

As a survivor, Mrs Wood now campaigns on behalf of abuse victims, and launched the blog Women in Fear to help other domestic violence sufferers. “Women ask me ‘that service is no longer available, what should I do?’

I don’t want to be on the front page of a newspaper because of their ignorance.

“It’s vital they stay open. We probably need more. This subject won’t go away, especially during Christmas. It’s a choice between life and death.

“The people high up don’t have to go through what we have to go through. We can’t run to hotels. Some women even have to return home.

“I don’t want to be on the front page of a newspaper because of their ignorance. People die by their ignorance”.

[1] from Internal Women’s Aid data, taken from UKrefugesonline: a secure on-line database of domestic abuse services across the UK run in partnership between leading domestic abuse charities: Women’s Aid Federation of Northern Ireland, Scottish Women’s Aid, Welsh Women’s Aid and Women’s Aid (England).

Getting help

National Domestic Abuse 24hr Helpline: 0808 2000 247
Women's Aid website: www.womensaid.org.uk
In an emergency, always dial 999 and ask for the police
For domestic violence perpetrators, there is the Respect helpline, open Mon-Fri 10am-1pm and 2pm-5pm, on 0808 802 4040
Respect phoneline website: www.respectphoneline.org.uk

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