I run a refuge service for female survivors of domestic abuse and violence, in a busy city borough. My team and I believe passionately that abuse is never the fault of the women, and that everyone has a right to be heard and to find their way to recovery. Once a woman makes a decision to leave an abusive relationship she is no longer a victim but a survivor.
I wish I didn’t have to hear some of the things I’m told. I wish there weren’t people out there who systematically rape and beat women; I wish there weren’t people who induce so much fear in their partners that they can no longer function normally. I wish that women didn’t ever have to be so scared that they have to come to a refuge.
I wish I didn’t know about the mum who hates her teenage daughter for the perceived loss of her own youth. I wish I didn’t know about the man who beats his partner with a belt, or the man who doesn’t let his wife, new to this country, leave the house so she is unable to figure out who can help her.
Except that, if I didn’t know, I wouldn’t be able to help these women. Without our services, these women would be far worse off. That’s enough for me to carry on despite the fact that I often find myself being screamed at by the women I’m trying to help; despite my comparatively low salary; despite increasing budget cuts.
I recently spent most of my weekend talking to police officers. I hadn’t seen Hilda for a few days – a woman living in one of the refuges in my borough who is deeply depressed. I feared she might have gone somewhere to hurt herself badly. We weren’t able to help her access counselling services because there just isn’t adequate provision in my borough, and in so much of the country. Thankfully, she came home, but I worry about the next time.
The part of my job I dislike the most is having to explain the reality of the housing crisis to women who already feel that life couldn’t get much worse. I resent being a mouthpiece for a policy with which I so vehemently disagree – but I have no choice. I cannot give people false hope. I have to tell the single women who have left everything to try and make themselves safe that the government doesn’t consider housing them to be a priority. While living in our refuge they are expected to focus on finding themselves somewhere to live rather than dealing with their trauma.