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Domestic violence victim speaks out as thousands across Hampshire live in fear in their own homes
IT IS supposed to be the one place you feel safe.
But thousands of desperate women across Hampshire are living in fear in their own homes.
This week the Daily Echo reported how the stress and emotional turmoil caused by a violent relationship triggered Sally Stickland to drive her car into her husband of 50 years, John, on a rural Hampshire road.
The judge said Mr Stickland was lucky not to have been killed and was left with serious injuries including fractures to his cheekbone, back and neck.
But his 72-year-old wife avoided an immediate prison sentence after it was revealed she may have been driven to carrying out the act as a result of “battered wife syndrome”.
The pair are now back together, saying they still love each other and are looking to the future. But that level of violence at the hands of the person you love is not unusual.
From women being locked in rooms when their partners go out, to mums enduring hammer attacks and one man threatening to fire a crossbow at his wife if she left him to horrific emotional abuse, the South Hampshire Women’s Refuge – one of two domestic abuse refuges in Southampton – has seen it all.
In fact refuge manager Allie Moore said out of the three refuges owned and operated by Raglan Housing Association across the country, the Southampton centre has witnessed the worst physical violence.
But as the countdown to the festive period gets under way – a time when 20 per cent more cases of domestic abuse are reported to the police – this newspaper can reveal how the county’s refuges are at breaking point.
The South Hampshire Women’s Refuge has revealed it can only accommodate one in five women fleeing domestic abuse.
This year the refuge has accommodated 46 women and 48 children, but has been unable to find space for 182 women and 150 children.
And as the charity Women’s Aid warns of a national crisis, the Southampton refuge has urgently appealed for the public’s help as it reaches its busiest period.
“There is quite a lot of refuge provision in Southampton, but here we have more cases of domestic violence. It is a huge problem in the city,” says Allie, talking in the refuge’s play room, stacked with toys and games but with a sofa bed for emergency arrivals.
“It’s frightening there are still a lot of people who can’t be accommodated. It’s so difficult to get funding at the moment. Nobody has any money, but it is vital we have these places for women. When you look at the statistics of the amount of women and children we’ve had to turn away, you understand why.
“Christmas is a particularly difficult time.
Women state the increased abuse is down to alcohol, financial worries and stress, so for them it’s not a time of excitement, but one of fear. Many women seem to stay in the abusive situation over Christmas for the sake of the children, but in January we see a very high rise in referrals.”
The purpose-built refuge, which opened in 2007 and has eight bedrooms with en suites, has accommodated 191 women and 221 children to date. However, due to lack of space, it has not been able to accommodate 883 women and 827 children.
Those women who can’t be accommodated are referred to other refuges, and Allie explains the Southampton centre ensures they are found a safe place. Many women, who can be referred by any agency including the police, social services, housing or self-refer, arrive with nothing.
They are immediately riskassessed and offered a welcome bag donated by a Southampton church, which includes a towel, nightshirt, toilet paper, toothbrush and toothpaste.
The children get a cuddly teddy bear, colouring in equipment and toiletries.
“If we didn’t have the church I don’t know what we would do. A lot of women leave in the middle of the night with nothing.”
The refuge works on a full support plan, which includes help with financial issues, housing issues, employment, childcare, attending solicitor appointments or court and emotional support, including specialist groups for both women and children.
“Everyone is different, but some can be just broken. It’s awful.
“Some don’t know where they belong any more. They are distraught. You see the movies and think ‘Does this really happen?’ But it does, and it is here in Southampton.
That’s why it’s so important to raise awareness of it.
“There is no telling what lengths some go to. We’ve had some really horrific stories of threats to kill, awful stuff. People have been attacked with a hammer, people have been threatened that if they leave they would be shot with a crossbow.
“We see incredibly violent behaviour, but emotional abuse too. It’s not just the stereotypical man comes home from the pub and gives the woman a black eye. Often people are in situations they don’t realise are really controlling or abusive.
“The impact of listening to some of that stuff is horrific, because you can see the damage it’s had on that person.
“We’ve had women in here before who didn’t know how to shop because their partners would always handle the money.
“Some haven’t been able to choose what they eat, it’s really extreme.
“Some have been locked in rooms. If their partner went out, they would be locked in the flat so they couldn’t go anywhere. There are very extreme cases.”
The average length of stay for each woman at the refuge this year is 98 days – but according to Allie that is made worse due to the welfare reform and difficulty in finding appropriate housing.
The women often move on to private lets or social housing.
But Southampton figures reveal six women this year returned to their abusers.
Allie explains it takes on average eight times for a woman to leave the perpetrator for good. Allie said the refuge’s work is vital.
“Nobody knows they are going to be in this situation.
Six months down the line, the perfect partner they thought they met turns out to have slowly taken control of their lives. You only have to look at all our thank you cards to realise how important the service is.
“It is lovely to see the turnaround and the happy stories when they become more confident. It is a safe haven if you have been in an environment where you are actually not living, you’re just existing, just trying to survive each day.
“For a lot of people there is no other way. Without refuges, they would be trapped in that abusive, violent, controlling relationship and there would be no escape.
“It’s being brave enough and strong enough to make that decision because there is light at the end of the tunnel.”
'I tried to kill my husband by poisoning his cocoa'
SHE suffered such appalling abuse at the hands of her husband she admits she tried to kill him.
Carol* was married for 40 years but her husband became increasingly unpredictable and she couldn’t see a way out.
“It got to the stage I was putting all the medication I was on in his cocoa after he’d been drinking. If he was drunk it would be unbearable, he’d just flip and he’d drive me to that crazy point.
“I’d sit there and think I can’t stab him, I just wanted it to stop.
“I admitted what I had done to my doctor. I said I tried to kill my husband by putting loads of medication in his drinks.
“I was honest about the state I was in. I was frightened all the time, waiting for the next time. I’d never know what he would do next. The doctor told me ‘You have to leave this relationship now’. In reality I thought prison would be a better place.”
Carol starts sobbing uncontrollably as she recalls the day she decided to leave – when Dave* flipped. It is too painful for her to talk about.
“I couldn’t take it anymore. I walked out of my door, into the doctor’s, went straight in and said I’m ready. I didn’t know where I was going to go.”
She begins shaking as she says: “I was so scared I made the police cover me up in the car.”
She went to South Hampshire Women’s Refuge, leaving her home behind – even though it was through her hard work, through years of having a professional job, that led to having the family home because her husband never worked and would regularly use cannabis.
Carol left the refuge though and admits she ended up back with her husband. And the abuse she had suffered at his hands for decades only got worse.
Throughout her marriage Carol, who is in her early 50s, endured beatings, being screamed and shouted at, but worst of all, she says she was the target of his emotional abuse.
It got so bad she couldn’t work any more and she wasn’t allowed to have friends and began to leave the house less and less.
“It was mental abuse. I’d rather he hit me. At least the bruises and cuts would heal.”
The turning point came when he lost his temper so badly he began smashing up the kitchen.
As she watched the blood trickle down her after she had been struck by a vase flying through the window, she decided enough was enough.
“All I had on was a pair of shorts, no underwear. I grabbed a jacket and my purse which had £35 in it from the side and I left.
“I just kept walking and walking and hid in a garage until a bus came along. I was scared he was following me.
“I thought ‘What shall I do?’ Death went through my mind, I was thinking I don’t want to live any more, I can’t go through this again but then I remembered the refuge and I walked there.
“I knocked on the door and said: ‘I’m afraid I haven’t come back to give you chocolates.’ I told my story and felt so guilty I did go back to him, but they made me feel so safe.”
Through her relatives she has discovered her husband has given away everything she owns.
Despite that, today she is talking from the bedroom of the Southampton refuge she has decorated immaculately.
But despite the colourful accessories, the window stays open and is a sign of her struggles.
“He doesn’t live with me but he doesn’t realise what he’s done to me,” she sobs.
“The abuse got so bad I got claustrophobia so I don’t ever shut the window. I need to know I can get out. I never used to wash or really do anything with myself because he made me feel unworthy, I felt worthless.
“That has been hard but I even bought a lipstick the other day and did my nails nice. I still hate going in the bath. It brings back bad memories for me.
“I wake up at 5am and sit on the end of the bed because he used to wake me up then.” Tears roll down her face: “It’s like he’s still in my head, still controlling me.”
But despite her struggles, thanks to the refuge Carol’s selfesteem is building every day.
“If I wasn’t allowed back in the second time, I wouldn’t be here. It doesn’t matter what position or power you are in or have, domestic violence can happen to anybody.
“If places like this didn’t exist, you’d kill yourself or you would suffer for a very, very long time.”
*All names have been changed.
Women's refuge needs your help
SOUTH Hampshire Women’s Refuge has issued a desperate plea for help with funding.
Allie Moore and her four-person team have called on both members of the public and companies to support the refuge. They urgently need everything from supermarket vouchers so women can buy basic food, donations of furniture and trades people who can donate labour and materials to paint and redecorate rooms and spruce up the children’s play area. Allie says: “It’s those few creature comforts that make the refuge a little more ‘home-like’ for residents and their children.”
The Southampton refuge, which is funded by Raglan Housing Association with additional support from Southampton City Council overseen by Southampton’s Supporting People Team, is in desperate need of a full-time child worker, which would cost £20,000 a year. The funding we get is enough to cover operational costs and basic necessities, but anything else comes from people’s generosity. Refuges like ours rely on the goodwill of the community to provide support.
“We have to look for additional funding to keep up the constant work needed to keep women and children safe,” Allie says. “A child worker is what we need more than anything.
Children are supposed to be carefree but these children have been exposed to bad things far too soon. If we had a child worker we could try to undo some of that damage.”
To help the refuge email allie.moore@ raglan.org.
The South Hampshire Women’s Refuge operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
24-hour advice line: 023 8063 7550
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