A domestic abuse charity is commemorating the 50th anniversary of its founding as a women’s refuge house in Chiswick.
Since Refuge opened its doors in November 1971, the organisation has grown into the UK’s largest single provider of specialist domestic and gender-based violence services, and a thought leader in the sector capable of influencing national public opinion.
Ruth Davison, Refuge’s CEO, reflected on the ongoing importance of the organisation in 2021 and the paradox of reaching this anniversary.
Davison said: “We’re still having to deal with violence against women and girls, and this is not something to celebrate.
“Whilst it is a landmark and a milestone for us since we opened our first refuge, in no way is it a celebration.”
Initially, the refuge was set up by founder Erin Pizzey as a safe house for women and children fleeing domestic abuse, and was little more than mattresses on the floor.
The organisation’s 50-year evolution and diversification into different services, such as specialised teams and helplines working nationally, means that Refuge is well-poised to campaign for legislation changes that impact how domestic abuse and violence against women and girls is perceived and tackled.
In October, Refuge launched ‘Enough is Enough’, a campaign calling for an amendment to the Police, Crime, Sentencing, and Courts Bill to explicitly include domestic abuse, sexual violence, and domestic homicide in Serious Violence Duty.
Davison said: “We’re hearing the government saying we’re facing an epidemic of violence against women and girls and that this is a priority, but we’re not seeing action to match those words.
“By recognising these crimes in the bill in this way, this shifts them onto the same legal footing as terrorism and other serious violent crimes, and you would see a fundamentally different response that would save lives.”
Davison is concerned by how the issues that Refuge seeks to tackle appear to be growing.
For example, since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, National Domestic Abuse helpline calls increased 61%, with no sign of the numbers dropping.
Davison added: “What we should be focusing on is: ‘Why is this still happening?’
“Why in our society in this day and age, is domestic abuse still tolerated in a way that other crime is not?”
One in four women will experience domestic abuse in their lifetime, and the nuances of contemporary life create new challenges that Refuge aims to provide support for.
Tech abuse, for example, is a primary modern concern for the organisation, and a specialist team was set up six years ago, but a greater reliance on technology during the national lockdowns further highlighted the issue’s importance.
Partnering with Avast, a global leader in digital security and privacy, Refuge launched an interactive tool to empower women to secure the connected devices within their home, such as RING doorbells and Amazon Alexa.
Davison said: “We did a recent survey which showed most women didn’t even know there was a device in their house that could be used against them, so it’s raising awareness and at the same time, giving people practical tools to keep themselves safe.”
She also called for tech companies to take a greater responsibility in keeping women and girls safe online.
“Safety by design should be an absolute standard across all tech giants in products and platforms,” Davison added.
Throughout November, Refuge will be using their anniversary to raise further awareness for active campaigns, and to support the ‘Enough is Enough’ campaign, email Priti Patel via Refuge’s website.
Refuge’s freephone 24-hour National Domestic Abuse Helpline: 0808 2000 247 or visit www.nationaldahelpline.org.uk for live chat Mon-Fri 3-10pm
Featured image credit: Stacey Osborne