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ECHO INVESTIGATES: Spotlight on those affected by domestic violence in Dorset
A Dorset woman says taking refuge from her abusive partner allowed her to take control of her life and keep her children safe.
Looking back at her time in a women’s refuge in Dorset, she spoke to the Echo about her experience as one of the thousands of women who have sought safety at the location since it opened in 2002.
From threats to her life and fears for her children’s safety, she says that her 10-year relationship consisted of emotional and mental as well as physical abuse.
“Get away, be brave and if you can’t do it for yourself do it for your children” – that’s the message the 38-year-old wants to pass on to any man or woman who is suffering from domestic abuse.
The mum-of-two, who does not wish to be named, said: “Domestic abuse is a form of bullying.
“You are made to feel like rubbish, like you aren’t worth anything and that it is the only way your life will ever be.
“It is truly terrifying taking that first step and entering a refuge, but looking back it is the best thing I have done for myself and my children.”
Speaking about her violent relationship, she added: “He tried to kill me on more than one occasion. He held me by the throat, pushed my children.
“One on occasion he drove me somewhere to try and kill me and the children were in the car.
“One minute it is lovely and you are treated like the most important thing in the world, then the next you are a piece of rubbish.
“They reel you in so you feel so loved and then the abuse starts. You don’t know it isn’t normal and you can’t break away.”
The brave victim recalled the trigger that finally pushed her to seek help.
“It was during one Christmas when all I’d ask for was some bubble bath but he’d gone out and bought me really expensive presents including diamonds.
“It sounds mad but the fact that he had not listened to what I’d really wanted and spent all that money although we were in a financial mess. It hit me then, after years of abuse, that this man would never change and never listen to me.”
She soon found out about the refuge after making a phone call to put herself on the housing list in North Dorset.
“I told a lady at the housing that I needed to leave my husband and she was amazing. She told me about the refuge.
“I tried to leave when my husband was out but he came back.
“I felt so strong in that moment, he was begging and pleading and saying that he would change.
“In an instant, he went from being nice to holding a knife to my throat. I left on that day.”
It has now been six-years since the dedicated mum entered the North Dorset Refuge with her two sons, now aged nine and seven.
She added: “I now have my own house, my children are amazing and I’m in control of my own life.
“Their father still has access to my sons and I would never demonise him to them.
“I wasn’t prepared to let them grow up thinking it was okay for them to behave like their dad or to treat me or other women in that way.
“The worst part is the isolation and the control and once I’d got away from it I had to learn to function without it.”
With support in place for her children at both school and home, the mum-of-two is feeling positive about their future and added her thanks to the North Dorset Refuge.
Refuge offers a route back to normality
AROUND 600 women and almost 800 children have been housed at the West Dorset Women’s Refuge since it opened in 1998.
In that time they were unable to accommodate a total of 2,732 women and 3,718 children due to a lack of space.
With nine rooms, including space for children and teenagers, the West Dorset refuge relies on community donations which help to provide support workers as well as outreach support and courses.
In the past 12 months, the 24-hour staffed refuge housed 49 woman and 46 children and were unable to accommodate 178 women and 162 children.
Chairman of the West Dorset refuge Molly Rennie said: “Refuge isn’t the answer for everybody but for some it is and it is a place where they can make decisions and a place of safety.
“No one at the refuge tells them what to do and many aren’t used to that.
“If someone wants to leave the perpetrator we will do everything to make that right for them but it is important to remember that some women do not want to leave and what we can do is help them manage the situation.”
She thanked the latest fundraiser who took on an epic walking challenge to raise £4,500 for the refuge.
She added: “What the community don’t realise is that the money they donate to us helps to provide Christmas presents and decorations and support for these women and their children.
“They are used to relationships where they are made to feel like nobody cares about them so when they come here and see how much the community rallies around them it is part of the process to make them feel valued again.”
The West Dorset refuge also offers a ‘move-on’ facility where tenants can stay following their residency at the secret location.
Secret location frees people from abusive lives
MORE than 5,280 victims of domestic abuse have made contact with the North Dorset Refuge since it opened in 2002.
The refuge has on average between eight and ten women seeking help each week.
Since it opened, more than 700 women have taken shelter at the secret location and more than 1,100 children.
With one in four women affected by domestic abuse at some point in their lives, the North Dorset Refuge objective is to help people live their lives free from abuse.
The oldest victim they have made contact with was an 83-year-old woman, who they sadly lost contact with while the youngest resident was a two-day old baby, whose mother was taken in from the hospital.
With 10 flats and around six staff members, including support workers for both adults and children, residents are allowed to stay for six months, with many going on to lead happy and independent lives.
The project leader, who does not wish to be named, said: “Domestic violence is everywhere. At the moment one in four women will be affected by it at some point in their lives.
“What has been most shocking over the last couple of years is the amount of 16 and 17-year-old girls who have been coming here for a place of safety.
“Mental health and alcohol are also increasing problems and we rely on a great local team of support workers.”
She added: “Many come with young children and sometimes the children feel they can’t talk to mum without making her upset or feel guilty so our child support workers really help.”
With house rules in place, residents are asked not to reveal the location of the refuge.
The project leader, who has worked at the site for nine years, said: “Coming into the refuge is often the first step.
“Sometimes the victim goes back to the perpetrator. But we don’t necessarily see that as failure.
“We had one woman come back three times. We allocate each person a support worker who will help them with benefits, finances, housing, health, children and the impact of domestic violence.”
The child support workers, who are funded by Children in Need, work with the youngsters to give them someone to talk to as well as doing fun activities like cooking lessons.
Due to high demand at the refuge, some women are put onto waiting lists while high risk emergency cases are referred to another refuge with availability in the UK.
Call for schools to get involved
Talking about healthy relationships in schools and raising awareness is key for the future of domestic abuse awareness.
The refuge project leader and the abuse victim, who spoke to the Echo about her past, claims more work needs to be done with younger generations at schools.
They praised an array of recent TV adverts that demonstrate the increase of young people becoming victims in unhealthy relationships.
From talks in prisons and in the community, they both agreed that more people are aware of the issue today and have more empathy towards both male and female victims.
BCHA's 24-hour Domestic Abuse Helpline: 01202 54 77 55
National Domestic Violence Helpline: 0808 2000 247
However, if you are in immediate danger, call 999.
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