Researcher Janine Ewen gives her take on why protecting domestic violence refuges is essential
FOR those of us who have left domestic violence and stayed in refuge, we know that such spaces are more than bricks and water.
Moving from a violent home to a safer space is overwhelming with much emotion. It was a relief for me and my brother, many years ago, that when we lived in refuge, we would no longer have to mentally prepare ourselves to hear our mother scream out for help, or to sit frozen on the staircase watching her be dragged out into the house corridor in the early hours of the morning for a bashing.
Yes. That is how bad it can be, as one of many examples. Family homes do exist that are abusive and violent. This is still a hard subject for people to digest because as a society, the home environment is always encouraged and believed to be the best starting point for people in their future lives.
Incidents of domestic abuse were treated as a "family issue", when the police would either ignore phone calls for help or when indoor resolution between the husband and wife would be a more fitting response. If only it was always that simple or effective.
It is especially hard for those who do relate or belong to a happy family unit, to understand the level of violence that can exist. I can understand why.
Years ago, incidents of domestic abuse were treated as a 'family issue', when the police would either ignore phone calls for help or when indoor resolution between the husband and wife would be a more fitting response. If only it was always that simple or effective.
But what if your real start and growth in life wasn’t from your born home, but a house where women and children, mothers, daughter and brothers, can start to make sense of what has happened to them? An environment where mothers can talk to each other about their experiences and begin to digest, and in time, believe that it wasn’t their fault after all?
— Sisters Uncut (@SistersUncut) July 9, 2016
Imagine a space where children can see that their mothers no longer have to be in daily fear. What if access to support helped you find a new home after refuge?
The feminist alliance Sisters Uncut – which describes itself as a "feminist group taking direct action for domestic violence services" – is fighting to protect that haven for the safety and protection of women, children, and domestic violence services.
The feminist alliance Sisters Uncut is fighting to protect havens for the safety and protection of women, children, and domestic violence services.
Unfortunately, keeping refuge spaces open can involve 'tip-toeing' around local councils to work around their agenda, as they see fit. Those involved in providing services for women and children in danger can also face a disappointing competitive environment, feeling as though they need to shout out to their council that they are the 'better' organisation, in order to guarantee success for funding. The constant performance of proving that refuge spaces and council houses are a real lifeline is as dreadful as it is terrifying.
Sisters Uncut’s sharp activism reminds the public that not only are women murdered from violent partners every week and that those who do not have access to public funds have no real means of escape, it also highlights the political bullshit that fuels violence, death and structural inequalities.
Currently, at this very moment in time, Sisters Uncut is occupying a council property in Hackney to protest against the local authority's treatment of domestic violence victims. The property has now been transformed into an open community centre.
The group is making very reasonable demands for the council to fill empty properties (at least 1,000 of them), stop housing victims of domestic violence in hostels and ensure that no more council homes fall into regeneration.
The constant performance of proving that refuge spaces and council houses are a real lifeline is as dreadful as it terrifying.
It is also asking Hackney Council to have a conscience and live in the reality of what is happening on its own doorstep, as 60 per cent of women are turned away from Hackney Refuge.
If Hackney Council really believes that the best solution to this crisis, where we know women and children do exist who are experiencing terror at home, is to build barriers to access refuge and housing, then we have to ask how it can ever be taken seriously on political priorities and policy formation when it comes to the rights of women and children.
If you wish to donate towards the Sister Uncut occupation, visit the group’s website for more details.
Picture courtesy of Sisters Uncut
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