For many of us, the festive season is a time of togetherness and celebration, but behind the scenes, there is another story to tell. Christmas sees a surge in calls made from women seeking support for domestic abuse, and families needing refuge. Last year, calls to domestic abuse charity, Solace Women’s Aid increased by 77% following the Christmas period , up by 47% year on year from Christmas 2017/18 -18/19. Numbers are expected to reach a record high this Christmas with over 600 calls predicted over the holiday season.
With national figures showing that the demand for women’s services supporting victims of domestic abuse has risen by 83% while funding has fallen by 50%, amongst the excess of Christmas parties and buying presents, Solace Women’s Aid is seeking support for women and families who arrive at refuges – often with nothing more than the clothes they’re wearing. Through a film which highlights the reality of starting a new life with nothing, Solace Women’s Aid is asking for a £10 donation to the charity to support a ‘box of fundamentals’. These boxes, given to each woman who arrives at Solace, contain items such as shampoo, soap and sanitary products, and are essential in offering women support and protection during the first night’s stay at a refuge.
Solace advocate and actor Karen Bryson, voice of the campaign film said, “I couldn’t be more pleased to support the Solace campaign this year. This can be an unimaginably difficult time of year for those suffering from domestic abuse. Reaching out and making that first call for help is extremely brave, as is leaving home and seeking refuge with nothing but the hope that Solace will help.”
One in four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime and two women are killed each week by a current or former partner in England and Wales. On average, women are in abusive relationships for more than six years before they leave for a Solace refuge, and domestic abuse offences in London increased by 63% between 2011 and 2018.
Solace is unable to provide the necessary support for women and families without public donations. In the year 2018-2019, the charity supported 23,000 women, children and young people (up from 16,000 the previous year) and has doubled the number of people it has supported annually during the past five years. Solace aims to increase the number of women it helps over the years to come, with plans to support 50,000 women as calls and need for services continues to rise.
Director of Business Development at Solace, Jane Jutsum said, “We are delighted to be launching this campaign on White Ribbon Day, 25th November and the start of 16 Days of Action against gender based violence. Our vision is of a world where women and children live freely from all forms of male violence. We stand to end the harm done to women and children and encourage donations to help fund our services. Without the individuals who so generously give donations, we struggle to reach the women and children who need us most. A donation of £10 this Christmas will help us to provide a box of fundamentals to every woman and her children, who come through Solace’s door.”
Talking first-hand about her experiences, Solace beneficiary Farida tells her story, “I grew up in Pakistan but always wanted to come to England. When I got engaged to a man in England, I was really happy, we talked to each other all the time and then we got married. I stayed in Pakistan while he moved back to England but I was thankful I’d found the right person. I began to find out things I hadn’t before. He was married previously and had two young daughters. Finally, I was brought to live in the UK with him. I met his daughters who were actually in their 20s and his first wife still lived in the family home. I was so lost; I didn’t know the laws in the UK so kept quiet about everything. He became so rude and careless. He would force me to have sex and treated me like nothing; I felt I wasn’t considered to be a human.
He kept going to his old wife if I didn’t do something he’d asked and eventually explained they were divorced in England but not by Islamic law. She was his wife forever. I was not allowed out and if I asked to, he would hit me on the mouth. When I didn’t do what he wanted, he always hit me. I was his servant and sex machine.
Eventually, I called the police before he came home one day. The police were really good, they got me an interpreter and told me to relax and found me a refuge space. When I arrived, the refuge worker provided me with some food and toiletries which made me feel like it may be ok. When I first came to refuge, I had no access to public funds, my key worker has helped me sort out my immigration, and I now have indefinite leave to remain. It has taken nine months. My key worker will help me find my own flat next, and I am learning English so I can become a Carer. I don’t have enough words to thank everyone at the refuge. I no longer feel alone.
The support from Solace has been so much more than enough.”