‘Leaving home was just the start of horrific ordeal’

Domestic violence
Domestic violence

Following revelations of the scale of cuts to services for domestic violence victims, Stef Hall speaks to one woman who escaped her violent partner – but is considering going back because of the lack of support.

READ MORE: How victims of domestic abuse pay true cost of Lancashire’s service cuts

When victims get out, that is only the first step. I thought that was the hardest step. I was naïve to think things would get better.”

Over the last 10 years Joanna has been battered, sexually assaulted, and given death threats by her husband.

But she says plucking up the courage to leave was just the start of her ordeal.

She says: “I feel abandoned and alone. No one will visit me, they are too scared of the repercussions of being seen at my house.

Witnesses won’t give evidence against him because they are scared their home will be burned down, and the parents at school avoid me.

“Witnesses won’t give evidence against him because they are scared their home will be burned down, and the parents at school avoid me.

“Through fear others have of my abuser, I have been basically been ostracized from the community.”

Joanna first came to the attention of domestic violence services when she needed hospital attention, and although she denied the abuse a quick-thinking nurse referred her and an Independent Domestic Violence Adviser got in touch.

Despite being in denial about her situation, she agreed to attend a course in the city for victims.

She recalls: “It saved me in one sense. I went each week, I sat there with a group of ladies who were all different – some were loud and cocky, some quiet, some professionals, some young, some older like me. But we were all normal everyday people. I thought I was in a bad marriage and I deserved the abuse because I was scum. It’s like a wave of relief to realise you are not alone or stupid.”

Joanna believes she would never have left if she knew what lay in store, describing it as “truly horrific, traumatic and awful.”

Now a single mum, she was crippled financially, and bombarded with abusive and threatening messages. Her possessions were broken, her home vandalised, and she was virtually abandoned by the few people who were her support network.

One day she had just 7p left as she battled to pay the mortgage on their former home, as well as child care fees, school dinners and school trips.

Her ex was remanded in custody after weapons were discovered in his home.

Joanna believes the cuts to domestic violence services are affecting her chances of finding vital support.

The determined mum is trying to seek help while holding down a job to support her two young children – but say it is impossible as most services clash with her employment hours, or are too far to travel to.

She recognised she needed counselling, but the nearest unit that could support her was a 40 minute drive from her home in rural Preston.

She attended three counselling sessions but found she could not afford the petrol to get there.

She was being helped by an independent domestic violence advisor (IDVA), whose numbers have dwindled, but has been “passed from pillar to post” when trying to find support.

She adds: “My GP referred me to Minds Matter, a therapy service, who then sent me to the Hope Centre in Preston for counselling but it was only open 10am until 3pm and I work 9am til 3pm.

“The lady was running round trying to do many things. I was told there was a waiting list of 19 weeks.

“Ironically I have just received a letter from Minds Matter saying I’m at the top of the list, but as mental health services have suffered some cuts I will have to travel to a centre 30 minutes away which shuts at 4pm - how do I get there when I only finish work at 3.15pm?

She adds: “When you are a victim you are at your lowest when you leave, and feel you are annoying and being a pest.

“It is false economy to use resources getting people out if they are just left to work out what the hell just happened. You’re alone, terrified, and your only place of security is your abuser.

“In all honesty if he gets out, I cannot go through anymore - I will beg him to take me back as I cannot live with the abuse I get trying to stay free of him.”

‘It’s not acceptable that women and children are turned away because of cuts to services’

The Post reported yesterday how refuges were having to turn victims of abuse away due to over-stretched resources.

As the scale of funding cuts across the country has been revealed, the government has been urged to do more.

Last year, Theresa May and the Department for Communities and Local Government announced a £20m pot to fund domestic violence projects.

But the funding missed out many areas altogether, and services remain fragmented.

Dr Mary-Ann Stephenson, co-director of UK Women’s Budget Group responded to the Bureau’s data, saying: “It is simply not acceptable that in a rich country like the UK women and children are being turned away from sometimes life-saving services because of cuts to funding. Too often women’s services are the first to face cuts when local authority budgets are squeezed. But central government has to take responsibility too: between 2010 and 2015 central government funding to local government fell by 50 per cent. Since then there has been a further 30 per cent cut in funding.

“And these cuts have not been shared evenly – local authorities in the most deprived areas have lost far more than local authorities in richer areas. The Government has made commitments to tackling violence against women and providing support to victims and survivors. They need to back that up with the funding that support services need.”

Katie Ghose, chief executive of Women’s Aid, said: “For survivors of domestic abuse being able to flee to a refuge is often a matter of life or death. On average, two women a week are killed by a partner or ex-partner in England and Wales. Yet for many women and their children trying to escape abusive homes, they are unable to access the safety of a refuge due to the chronic underfunding of these lifesaving services which means there are not enough spaces.

“On just one day in 2016, 78 women and 78 children trying to escape abuse were turned away from a refuge. This can leave them forced to return to their abuser or face becoming homeless . The Government has promised to tackle domestic abuse through its landmark Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill and make survivors safe in the knowledge that the state “will do everything it can to both support them and their children.” We fully support the Government’s ambitions but fear that the Bill’s potential will be undermined if these lifesaving specialist refuges are not properly funded. We urge the Government to commit to the sustainable, long-term funding of a national network of refuges and ensure that the housing benefit refuges rely on will be protected. The Government must commit to save these lifesaving services so that all women and their children can safely escape from domestic abuse.”