Support services are only the first step to helping women to face a variety of challenges when they are fleeing violence.
Housing for Women have 80 years of experience in championing women to access suitable housing. We deliver projects that support women and their children through a number of the strands of Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) strands. These include our Re-Unite project that supports women who have been released from prison to be re-united and housed with their children, our Re-Place project that assists women who have experienced trafficking, as well as a range of Domestic Abuse services in Ealing, Greenwich and Merton.
Whether a woman loses her home due to domestic violence and/or abuse, exploitation or prison her life, and often her children’s lives, are plunged into uncertainty. Cuts to legal aid and welfare benefits and the threat of long term homelessness together with the potential of losing custody of her children exacerbate this.
Many of our support services provide crucial safe temporary housing, but with the current housing crisis there are less and less housing options available and it is becoming increasingly difficult to support women in their transition into their own safe, secure and permanent accommodation.
Local councils are under increasing pressure to house vulnerable women after they have been in temporary accommodation. It is challenging for councils without the means to take action to do so. The private renting sector can be almost impossible to ‘crack’ for those who claim any sort of housing benefits, and even for those with jobs rent levels are often unaffordable.
Support services like ours provide a crucial short term means to empower women into an independent and positive long-term future.
Many women report that the support we offer is life-changing. We want to ensure that this important first step to recovery and independence remains available to women in the future.
Roxanna Donald is a Support Worker for Housing for Women.
Around the world, activists will use the #16days of activism as an opportunity to highlight the devastating impact of violence against women and girls (VAWG), while calling for change.
This post is dedicated to all the women who have fought, and who continue to fight for equality, justice and a voice. In particular, these words are dedicated to the women of Roshni, Nottingham, and all the other women whose blood, sweat and tears continue to soak through the rich, painful tapestry of this work.
I cried because we lost Roshni. But through the tears, I stand here to say again, ‘Nothing about us without us!’ We will keep fighting!
We will fight to save Apna Haq, a lifeline for many of the women of Rotherham who are even more unsafe on the streets as Islamophobic violence has increased. Apna Haq, like so many organisations for minority women, was set up because we needed a place to go, a place of safety, a place where we could speak, a place where we could be heard.
This has always been about the work. This has always been about our voices, our safety and our lives.
So to the politicians we say, this: ‘As you contemplate your cuts, remember we never started out on a level playing field. We have already been cut. We have already suffered disproportionately. Let us get on with our work.’
We say: ‘Stop destroying our organisations and our lives. We have a right to define the solutions that work for us. We have a right to speak with our own voices and in our own words.’
We know our realities and we speak from that place. We are the experts in our own journeys. Black women need Black-led services, and so we say: nothing about us without us!
Marai Larasi is the Executive Director of Imkaan, a UK-based national second tier organisation dedicated to challenging violence against black and ‘minority ethnic’ women and girls. A longer version of this piece appeared in Imkaan's publication In Our Own Words.
nia started out as Hackney Women’s Aid. We became the nia project to reflect the organisation’s move to an approach which integrated provision to women who have suffered any form of sexual or domestic violence. That doesn’t mean that we provide the same service, irrespective of a woman’s experience but that we recognise the connections that run through all forms of men’s violence against women.
Our services now include East London Rape Crisis for women and girls who have experienced any form of sexual violence - including rape, sexual assault and child sexual abuse - regardless of when it occurred, who it was perpetrated by and whether or not it was reported to the police; and The Emma Project, a pioneering refuge and outreach service for women with problematic substance use who have experienced any form of domestic or sexual violence including prostitution; as well as a range of other services.
We started running The LEA Project to support women in prostitution and facilitate exit this month. It was developed by our sister organisation Eaves before they closed down due to loss of funding. We’re currently raising money to buy back the van that was used for night-time outreach work as it was seized by the administrators. Without it, there are women who will not be able to access support.
Times are hard for women’s services, much of our funding for the next financial year is unconfirmed, insecure or reducing. It’s now forty years since 1975, when a group of feminist activists and survivors of men’s violence started Hackney Women’s Aid. It was also the year that Peter Sutcliffe killed the first of at least 13 women in West Yorkshire and the year the BBC1 launched Jim’ll Fix It, presented by Jimmy Savile who is now known to have sexually abused hundreds of women and children.
40 years later, men are still abusing, raping, beating, exploiting and killing women. Research shows that women want, value and benefit most from specialist women only services and while men’s violence against women continues, we will fight to support women.
Karen Ingala Smith is CEO of nia
Manchester Women’s Aid works with the public and voluntary sector and funders like the Big Lottery and Comic Relief to keep victims of controlling, coercive and threatening behaviour, violence and abuse safe and well.
The majority of services are accessed by women because they are more likely to experience domestic violence and abuse (DVA) and when they do it is more likely to be more severe and repeated.
On an average day there will be 30 women in refuge, having escaped life-threatening abuse from an intimate partner or family member. There will also be many children coming to terms, through play sessions, with the DVA they have witnessed. Our skilled staff will be providing practical and emotional support to over 150 victims of DVA in the community, running groups and drop-in advice sessions each week and training professionals such as GPs and the police in how to identify abuse and respond appropriately.
And yet we struggle to fund even this level of service, even in places like Manchester where DVA crimes are reported every 8 minutes. And we spend precious time completing endless short-term funding applications and having to explain, over and over again, why closing refuges and forcing victims to stay in a violent relationship is wrong, why families will often have to move across the country to a place of safety, far away from the abuser and why it’s so important to invest in the healing of child and adult victims of this awful crime. Time that should be spent ending the fear.
Gail Heath is CEO of the Pankhurst Trust
As we start the 16 days of action opposing violence against women, the picture in the UK is bleak. Specialist women’s services up and down the country are seeing huge increases on demand for their services yet these self-same services are shrinking, closing or at risk of closure. One such sad casualty was Eaves which, after 29 years working to end violence against women, closed at the end of October.
The sorts of challenges that organisations face are linked to commissioning processes which favour large, generic, non-specialist organisations with economies of scale and significant reserves so they can subsidise tenders. This directly militates against small, specialist, women only services (which we know is what works and what women want) being able to win tenders. In turn this has a hugely negative impact on the quality of services that women receive.
Eaves managed to save some services, in collaboration with Nia, Gaia, Women in Prison and the Beth Centre. Sadly, the Alice project, which averted homelessness for 294 women in one year, could not be saved.
The big unknown is the Poppy project, which was the first British service to work with women trafficked into prostitution or domestic labour. They operated way over the minimum standards allowed for by the Government contract. They undertook outreach in prisons and detention centres identifying women missed by the system. They provided gender specific and victim centred support beyond the minimum of 45 days. They challenged wrongful decisions achieving a high success rate with women.
The fact that they built such trust and supported women for so much longer than is provided for, accounts for the fact that the Poppy project helped women to bring a total of 45 traffickers to justice achieving some 423 years sentences between them! However Poppy is not gone – it is trying to set up independently. There may be a break in service but they’ll be back.
Heather Harvey was formerly research and development manager at Eaves.
Sophie Walker, leader of the Women's Equality Party
Today marks the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. In an effort to draw attention to the scale of this human rights catastrophe, campaigners around the world will be raising their voices in protest and major landmarks in many countries will be lit up in orange.
One of them will be Niagara Falls, where six million cubic feet of water plummet over the crest line every minute. It seems an apt choice to mark the scale of the problem.
Globally, one in three women experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. Some 20 percent of British women have experienced rape and/or sexual assault, according to the latest Crime Survey for England and Wales. And as a result, tens of thousands of women and children in the UK are forced to leave their homes and seek refuge and support in safe places.
Over the last year, Rape Crisis organisations, which offer everything from refuge and counselling to legal advice, responded to more than 3,000 helpline calls - a week. In total they received 165,000 calls between 2014 and 2015. Over the same period of time more than 21,000 women were supported by just 17 specialist organisations for black and minority ethnic women.
I am grateful to live in a society where the most vulnerable are cared for and protected. But I do not know for how much longer that will be the case.
Because today, when the government’s Spending Review lays out its plans for the disbursement of £4 trillion of taxpayers' money, not one Rape Crisis centre in England and Wales has funding fully confirmed beyond March 2016. In fact, 42 per cent of them have no funding confirmed at all.
This country’s sexual and domestic violence services are being drained by the current government. Last week, Rotherham’s Apna Haq centre was threatened with closure, despite being the only local specialist service for BME women and girls. Last month, London’s Eaves closed its doors after 38 years of support to women victims of violence.
Today’s Spending Review is a five-year projection of government spending. The five years it projects look bleak.
As life-funds ebb, the impact is being felt immediately. Waiting lists across the Rape Crisis network currently stand at 3,500. Women’s Aid turned away 320 women one day in 20111 - which they now describe as a typical day - due to lack of space. Over the last year, in London alone, 733 BME women sought refuge spaces in London. Only 154 were successful.
A loss to services is a loss to life.
On today’s international day of action it is time to call a halt to a funding model that is not fit for purpose.
Britain’s Violence Against Women and Girls support services are having the heart ripped out of them by budget cuts, short term contracts and crassly simplistic commissioning practices that push specialist units to one side in favour of bigger organisations that lack their expertise but can afford to undercut them.
Those services that do receive funding are often subjected to six month break clauses, so that government can continually assess their worth against other political priorities.
The Women’s Equality Party is committed to doing politics differently, and today WE call for cross-party commitment to do this funding differently. These services should not have to repeatedly face the threat of elimination, while the torrent of violence against women and girls continues.
WE think that specialist services should be able to plan and grow their services and not be vulnerable to the ebb and flow of changes in political thinking. And WE call on every other party in Britain to sign up to this model.
This week our members raised £31,500 in just six days to put candidates for the Women’s Equality Party on the ballot papers in Scotland, Wales and London next spring. They want every day to be a Day for Action. They want to prioritise equality for women regardless of other political battles.
Today, WE call on all political parties to unite in their commitment to ending violence against women and girls by uniting in a commitment to sustainable and secure funding.
Our policies are here:
The Women’s Equality Party is committed to ending violence against women and girls.
WE aim to ensure that all women and girls who experience sexual, domestic or other violence have access to specialist advocacy and support services
WE will create a fund – more than £800m by 2018-19 – to support the legal aid budget, restoring half of the cuts made in 2012, and providing ring-fenced funds to local authorities for VAWG services
WE will expand services to ensure we can provide a stable place to live for all women and children fleeing domestic abuse, starting with crisis and refuge services and moving into more permanent housing